What Municipal Approvals will I Need to Build My Project? Can an Architect Help?

by Eric Connolly, B.Arch, Envir. Studies, MOAA, MRAIC

There is a large public misunderstanding with respect to obtaining "Approval" to proceed with a Building Project.

It is important to understand that "Approval" entails two distinct but related issues. One involves "Land Use" issues and the other involves "Building Permit" issues. A Client, with best of intentions, may pursue answers to one set of issues but will NOT be aware of the need to resolve the other set of potential issues.

Land Use issues deal with Zoning By-laws as set out by the Municipality and Planning Law as set out by the Municipality, the Region or the Province. In this case "Approval" includes meeting the municipal Zoning By-laws and Planning Law requirements and may also include meeting the requirements of Conservation Authorities, the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Mineral, Mines and Resources, the Ministry of Health and others.

Building Permit issues deal with the Ontario Building Code, the Ontario Fire Code, Electrical Safety Act, the Day Nurseries Act, the Homes for Aged and Rest Homes Act, Occupational and Safety Act and various Construction Standards. If a Project involves Crown Corporations or Agencies, the National Building Code takes precedence. Any Project involving "building" as defined under the "Ontario Building Code Act" requires a Permit issued by the Chief Building Official.

A lot to know! Practicably for a Client however, a lot to know regarding the questions that need to be asked and who it is they should be ask!

While not always having answers to all the questions, an Architect can provide Clients with potential sources for answers as well as the implications on a Clients Property or Building Project.

The bulk of the questions (particularly those dealing with Land Use) need to be answered at the outset of a Project. I would not advise utilizing off the cuff remarks from Realtors or Contractors. Clients should consider utilizing the services of an Architect who can provide continuity on behalf of the Client throughout the design and implementation of the Project. A Lawyer could also be considered.

Should a Minor Variance be required for a Project which cannot meet Zoning Requirements, an Architect can assist with necessary Drawings, Applications and Hearings.

Should Site Plan Review and Approval be necessary for a Project, an Architect can assist in a similar fashion as well as with assembling a required Team including (where required) Planners, Traffic Engineers, Site Service and Grading Engineering, Site Lighting Engineering, Storm Water Management Engineering, Cost Control and Landscape Architecture. As above an Architect can also represent the Client at hearings and equally important, a "Pre-consultation Meeting" with Authorities having jurisdiction with a view to receiving formal commentary on a requirements for a given Project.

Architects can also provide Clients with assistance in obtaining Niagara Escarpment Approval, Conservation Authority Permits, MOE Permits and other necessary Approvals as required for specific building types.

Needless to say the Approvals process is complex and "Shark Infested Water". I advise caution and care – allow for lots of time for the process to unfold!