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Commonly Used Planning Terms


The terms below are provided to promote understanding of Planning Notices provided by the City to members of the public. They are not all-inclusive and are not intended to replace or override more technical definitions that may appear in the laws of the Province of Ontario or the Corporation of the City of London.

Planning Terms

Accessory and Ancillary – a use, building or structure that is incidental, subordinate and exclusively devoted to the main use and carried on with such main use, building or structure on the same lot.

Adaptive Reuse – the conversion of an existing building for a use that differs from the use it was initially constructed for. In most cases, the term applies to the conversion of a non-residential use to a residential use.

Affordable Housing – either one of the following:

1.    In the case of ownership housing, will mean either a. Housing for which the purchase price results in annual accommodation costs which do not exceed 30 percent of gross annual household income for low and moderate income households; or b. Housing for which the purchase price is at least 10 percent below the average purchase price of a comparable resale unit in the City of London;

2.    In the case of rental housing, will mean either a. A unit for which the rent does not exceed 30 percent of gross annual household income for low and moderate income households; or b. A unit for which the rent is at or below the average market rent of a unit in the City of London.

Amenity Area – an area or areas intended for use for recreation or aesthetic purposes within the boundaries of a lot and may include landscaped open space areas, patios, balconies, communal lounges, swimming pools, and recreation facilities.

Area and/or Secondary Plan – provides specific policies for areas identified within an Official Plan requiring more detailed direction on topics such as land use, infrastructure, the natural environment, transportation and urban design.

Approval Authority – a person or body other than City Council who has the delegated authority to approve certain types of planning applications, such as draft plans of subdivision, draft plans of condominium, consents to sever and minor variances.

Bonus Zone – authorizes increases in the height and/or density of development beyond what is otherwise permitted by the zoning regulations for the property in the Zoning By-law, in return for the provision of such facilities, services or matters as are set out in the bonus zone specific to that property.

Brownfield Site – a vacant or underutilized property, the redevelopment or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant from past industrial or commercial activities.

Cluster Dwellings – a group or groups of dwelling units which may be in various forms, and located on a lot such that each dwelling unit may not have legal frontage on a public street, and more than one dwelling unit may exist on one lot. Typical cluster housing forms include multiple single detached dwellings, triplexes, fourplexes or townhouse dwellings on one lot, which may be rented, or individually owned as a condominium unit.

Common Open Space – recreation space provided within or outside a building or buildings for the use of all the residents for recreation or social purposes and readily accessible by all the residents of the building or buildings.

Community Improvement Plan – is a tool that recognizes defined areas where, in City Council’s opinion, community improvement would be desirable. Community Improvement Plans allow the City to offer incentives, such as Financial Incentive Programs, for these areas in order to encourage private sector investment and rehabilitation.

Community Information Meeting – an information meeting which is held in the community when, in the opinion of the Managing Director, Planning and City Planner, members of the community should have an opportunity to obtain information regarding a planning application in a forum other than (and additional to) a Statutory Public Participation Meeting. A community information meeting may also be held by a person who will be submitting, or has submitted, a planning application to the City.  Attendance at community information meetings does not create a right to appeal a decision of City Council or an Approval Authority to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal.

Consent to Sever – the division of land to create new lots, adjust lot boundaries and create long-term easements. Consents to sever are generally limited to the creation of 5 lots or less. City Council has delegated the approval authority for Consent to Sever to the City Planner or designate. The public is notified of Consent to Sever applications, but Public Participation Meetings are not required for a Consent to Sever.

Conservation Master Plans – are prepared to provide direction on the management of environmentally significant areas to help protect and preserve those natural areas.

Converted Dwelling – the conversion of an existing residential dwelling to accommodate two or more dwelling units, without making substantive changes to the exterior of the building.

Density – the number of residential units per hectare of land permitted on a lot under the applicable zoning.

Draft Plan of Condominium – a way to divide land or buildings into units that can be sold to an individual together with a share of the rest of the property, which is common to all of the owners. City Council has delegated the approval authority for condominiums to the Director, Development Services or his delegate. In some cases, the land subject to a draft plan of condominium application is/has also been subject to the public Zoning By-law amendment process, or a site plan approval process that may or may not have included a Public Participation Meeting. Public Participation Meetings are not required for most draft plans of condominium.

Draft Plan of Subdivision – a way to divide a large parcel of land to create lots for single detached dwellings, blocks for multiple-family dwellings or non-residential land uses, parks, schools, stormwater management blocks and walkways, and public streets. The draft plan of subdivision submitted to the City does not show specific building locations; the rules for locating buildings are established in the Zoning By-law. Future development on blocks created through the subdivision process may be subject to a site plan approval process, which may or may not include a Public Participation Meeting. City Council has delegated the approval authority for subdivision applications to the Director, Development Services or his delegate. Prior to a decision by the approval authority, a Public Participation Meeting is required during which the public is provided the opportunity to comment on the draft plan of subdivision application.

Dwelling Unit – an independent housekeeping unit in which food preparation, eating, living, sleeping and sanitary facilities are provided for the exclusive use of the occupants of the unit, and which has its own private entrance. The Zoning By-law contains regulations limiting the number of bedrooms in a dwelling unit.

Exterior Side Lot Line – see Lot Line, Exterior Side

Floor Area Ratio – the gross floor area, in square metres, divided by the area of the lot, in square metres, expressed as a ratio of gross floor area to one square metre of lot area.

Form – means “built form” and includes such things as the physical size, height, shape, style, and architectural elements of a building and its position relative to the lot and surrounding buildings.

Front Lot Line – see Lot Line, Front

Frontage – is usually the width of the lot measured along the public street allowance or for an irregularly-shaped lot, at a set distance from the public street allowance.

Gross Floor Area – the sum of the horizontal areas of the several floors of a building measured from the exterior face of exterior walls.  The Zoning By-law provides specific inclusions and exemptions for clarity.

Height – when used in reference to a building or structure, means the vertical dimension between the grade of such building or structure and some point on the roof. The point to be measured to on the roof depends on the roof type or configuration.  The Zoning By-law provides more clarity.

Holding Provision – a zoning tool which is used in conjunction with any zone, which limits the use to which lands, buildings or structures may be put until the holding symbol is removed by amendment to the Zoning By-law. The holding symbol will not be removed until certain requirements specified in the holding provision are met.

Intensity of Development – the concentration of development and use on a site.  Intensity is evaluated using such measures as height, gross floor area, lot coverage, building floorplate area, residential density in units/ha, number of bedrooms, parking, and floor area ratio.

Intensification – the development of a property, site, or area at a higher density than currently exists. Intensification adds one or more residential units to a site, or creates one or more additional lots from an existing lot.

Interior Lot Line – see Lot Line, Interior

Land Use – the occupation or use of land for any human activity or any purpose defined in the Official Plan or Zoning By-law.

Landscaped Open Space – the open space on a lot which is used for the growth and maintenance of grass, flowers, shrubbery and other landscaping and includes any surfaced walk, patio, swimming pool or similar area.

Lot – a piece of land having fixed boundaries and shown on a registered plan of subdivision or registered reference plan resulting from a planning approval such as consent to sever or part lot control. A lot is not an easement, and must front on a public street or an approved private street.

Lot Coverage – the percentage of a lot covered by the first storey of all buildings and structures on the lot.

Lot Line, Front – is usually the lot line next to a public street. On a corner lot, the narrowest side is usually determined to be the front lot line.

Lot Line, Exterior Side – on a corner lot is the lot line that is not the front lot line.

Lot Line, Interior Side – is the lot line between one lot and another, where the lots front on the same street.

Lot Line, Rear – is usually the lot line farthest from or opposite to the front lot line.

Minor Variance – is minor relief from the requirements of a Zoning By-law where the use of land, building or structures does not comply exactly with the Zoning By-law, but follows the general intent of the Zoning By-law. The application for a Minor Variance is made to and reviewed by municipal planning staff, is circulated for community consultation and requires a Public Participation Meeting where the public is provided the opportunity to comment on the application. Decisions on Minor Variances are delegated to the Committee of Adjustment.

Mixed-Use – properties on which various uses such as residential, office, commercial and/or institutional uses are combined in a single building or on a single site in an integrated development project with significant functional interrelationships and a coherent physical design.

Multiple Family Residential – a form of housing that includes several residential units on a lot, such as cluster single detached dwellings, townhouse dwellings and apartment buildings.

Non-conforming – a use, building, structure or any part thereof which was lawfully occupied and/or existed at the date of passing of the Zoning By-Law, which does not conform or comply with the permitted uses and/or regulations of the zone in which it is now located.

Official Plan – describes City Council’s general policies on how land in our community should be used. An Official Plan deals mainly with issues such as when, and in what order, parts of a community will grow; where new employment opportunities and housing will be located; and what infrastructure and services like roads, watermains, sewers, parks and community facilities will be needed. In London the Official Plan may also be referred to as The London Plan.

Official Plan Amendment – is a formal change to the City’s Official Plan that can be City-initiated or initiated by a person or group. Should a person or group want to use or develop land in a way that is not allowed by the Official Plan, they can apply for an Official Plan change, also known as an Official Plan Amendment. The application for an Official Plan Amendment is made to and reviewed by municipal planning staff, is circulated for community consultation and requires a Public Participation Meeting where the public is provided the opportunity to comment on the application. Decisions on Official Plan Amendment applications are made by City Council.

Parking Space – a space, exclusive of driveways, ramps or columns, to park one vehicle for purposes other than the display or offering for sale of commodities.

Permitted Use – an authorized use within a zone in the Zoning By-law.

Place Type – the place types of The London Plan (the City’s new Official Plan) establish policies that regulate development that is permitted in each place type. A place type may also be referred to as a “designation” in the Official Plan. Each place type establishes at a high level, the permitted uses, allowed intensity of development, and form requirements for various areas of the City.

Planning & Environment Committee – a standing committee of City Council that oversees a broad range of matters related to big picture and site-specific planning and development, growth management, forestry, and natural and cultural heritage. The Planning & Environment Committee makes recommendations to City Council.  

Public Participation Meeting – related to Planning applications, is a meeting held by the City in accordance with the requirements of the Planning Act, for the purpose of giving the public an opportunity to make representations regarding the planning application before City Council or other Approval Authority. Subject to the specific requirements of the Planning Act, attending and speaking at a Public Participation Meeting may create the right to appeal the decision of City Council to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal.

Public Realm – means all those areas within the city that the public has unrestricted physical access to including such areas as streets (including the paved portion, sidewalks, and boulevards), seating areas, transit stations, parks, squares, plazas, forecourts, community facilities, publicly accessible natural areas, and public rights-of-way and easements established for public access.

Rear Lot Line – see Lot Line, Rear

Setback or Yard Setback – the distance that a building or structure is required to be located away from the front, side or rear lot line.

Secondary Plan – see Area and/or Secondary Plan

Site Plan – a plan, to scale, showing uses and structures proposed for a parcel of land. It includes lot lines, streets, existing and proposed building locations, open space,  major natural and man-made landscape features and, depending on requirements, the locations of proposed servicing infrastructure.

Site Plan Approval – a tool used to comprehensively review development applications to ensure safe, functional and high quality developments are constructed. Municipal staff will review building location, landscaping, parking, drainage, pedestrian access, public realm etc. to ensure compliance with all applicable standards, by-laws and guidelines. All non-residential and larger residential projects in the City are subject to site plan approval. City Council has delegated the approval authority for site plan approval to one of the Managing Director, Development and Compliance Services and Chief Building Official, the Director, Development Services, the Manager, Development Services (Site Plans), or the Manager, Development Planning. Site plan approval is usually the last planning approval required before a building permit is issued. Where required by a resolution of City Council or where an Official Plan policy requires it, public site plan approval may be required, and the public is provided the opportunity to comment on the site plan approval application during a Public Participation Meeting.

Special Provision – a zone variation applied at the time of a Zoning By-law amendment to unique or existing situations, that provides specific exceptions or limitations to the regulations of the standard zone on the property.

Temporary Use – a use established in the Zoning By-law for up to a maximum of 3 years, after which the temporary use zone expires and the permitted uses revert back to only those permitted in the main zone.

Urban Design – planning the built form of a place to create positive relationships between elements such as streets, streetscapes, public spaces, landscapes and buildings. Urban design is concerned with the location, mass, and design of various urban components and combines elements of urban planning, architecture, and landscape architecture.

Yard Setback – see Setback

Zoning or Development Regulation – a specific set of rules that apply to a property or area, setting out such things as the permitted uses, lot area, building height, floor area, yard setbacks, lot coverage, landscaped open space, and automobile and bicycle parking on a lot. Zones and their regulations for specific properties are found in the Zoning By-law.

Zoning By-law – controls the use of land by setting out permitted land uses and regulations that apply to each individual property throughout the City. Zoning must conform to the policies of the Official Plan.

Zoning By-law Amendment – a formal change to the City’s Zoning By-law that can be City-initiated or initiated by a person or group. Should a person or group want to use or develop land in a way that is not allowed by the Zoning By-law, they can apply for a zoning change, also known as a Zoning By-law amendment or a rezoning. The application for an Zoning By-law Amendment is made to and reviewed by municipal planning staff, is circulated for community consultation and requires a Public Participation Meeting where the public is provided the opportunity to comment on the application. Decisions on Zoning By-law amendment applications are made by City Council.