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Vacant Land Development - Planning and Applications 

VACANT LAND DEVELOPMENT Vacant land, as a commercial market sector, is focused on development activities involving planning, application and development processes. Land technically refers to raw acreage, raw land, vacant land or unimproved land, because no alteration for specific purposes has occurred. This should not be confused with the term ‘site’ that refers to a parcel of land that is often serviced, at least to some degree. Land development has traditionally been focused on property that exists in an unused manner (and not necessarily in a natural state), before the construction of services; e.g., water and sewers and that additional of structural improvements. In recent years, considerable attention has been focused on the revitalization of property. Therefore, both land in a natural state and the conversion of existing serviced land into a new use are discussed. THE PLANNING PROCESS The Planning Act is the overriding legislative framework for the land development in Ontario. Beyond that focal statue, the scope of regulatory and related requirements is a complex interplay of provincial statues, municipal official plans, zoning by-laws and administrative procedures. Planning responsibilities, broadly defined in the Planning Ave, generally fall to the local municipality. The municipality’s long term goals for land development are set out in the official plan. This plan, which is subject to periodic review, is not statutory in nature, but rather a general pokicy document. This, in turn, flows to municipal planning predefined purposes and uses. Each zone type has its own set of restrictions regulating how land may be used. A primary objective of zoning by-laws is to ensure that adjacent lands have compatible uses. The provincial role in land planning, in addition to overall responsibility and associated legislative initiatives is focused on general planning policies and associated policy statements. Municipalities must ensure that their activities surrounding the official plan and zoning by-laws are consistent with such interests. For example, current provincial interests include the protection of ecological systems and provincial agricultural resources, and the orderly development of sage and healthy communities, along with various other provisions. Beyond that, the provincial Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing s also involved in approvals for selected types of development. Public consultation is an integral part of the planning process. The Planning Act requires public consultation in order to receive input on various development activities undertaken by municipalities. Such input is typically by way of public meetings, open houses, workshops, surveys and information available on various media, including municipal websites. The government has consistently advanced the need for more accountability, transparency and public input in the decision-making process. Development applications are subject to public scrutiny and details of such proposals are circulated through public notices in newspapers and signs prominently placed in the property describing exactly what is being proposed. The final component in the land planning process is the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). The OMB, as a quasi-judicial body, hears application and appeals relating to the Planning Act and related matters. Relevant OMB activity from a land development perspective normally involves objections to municipal decisions concerning official plans and zoning by-laws, and subdivisions or condominium plans. LAND DEVELOPMENT APPLICATIONS Land developers are commonly involved in municipal applications for official plan/zoning by-laws amendments, draft plan approvals (subdivision or condominium) and/or site plan applications. As land development schemes typically involve new uses for land, developers are initially faced with applications to amend the official plan and/or the zoning by-law. This discussion focuses on amendment procedures and associated land owner responsibilities in land development, rather than draft plans (subdivisions and condominiums) and site plans. The latter involve statutory requirements concerning the Planning Act. The following is a general description only, which provides registrants with an understanding of the development process. Procedures, documentation and fees will vary by municipality.