Municipal Planning Q&A

Municipal Planning Q&A

What is the purpose of a municipal plan?

Municipal councils in Newfoundland and Labrador have the responsibility and authority to make planning and land use decisions. This means that they can determine what types of development can take place on a property, minimum lot sizes for particular types of development and the maximum size and allowable height of buildings. There are a variety of planning tools that can help municipal councils with this responsibility. Two of the most useful and common planning tools are municipal plans and zoning regulations.

Municipal plans are documents which are adopted by a municipal council which formally set out how land in your community should be used. Municipal plans normally have a 10 year time frame and are usually reviewed and updated every 5 years. A municipal plan deals with issues such as:

• Where new housing, offices, shops and industrial uses will be allowed to be located.
• What services, such as water and sewer lines, parks and recreational facilities will be needed.
• When and in what order parts of a community will grow and develop.

Municipal plans provide a means of communicating with all members of a community about the policies and objectives of a municipal council in maintaining and developing the community. A municipal plan can assist developers as well as the community’s residents to understand what is permitted or may be considered in the community. A municipality derives its authority to produce a municipal plan from the Provincial Urban and Rural Planning, 2000.

How does a Municipal Plan Relate to Zoning Regulations?

Zoning regulations, which normally consist of text and maps, are used to implement the policies of a municipal plan and are a device to ensure that development “on the ground” is consistent with the policies of the municipal plan.  Zoning regulations work by regulating the use of land and location of buildings and structures. Zoning regulations are subordinate to and must comply with a municipal plan.

Overall, municipal plans are more general than zoning regulations, which are more detailed and specific. For example, a municipal plan might designate an area of a community for residential development while the zoning will go further and specify on a property by property basis if the property can be developed for single detached houses only or if other types of residential uses such as semi-detached houses, townhomes or apartment buildings will be permitted. Zoning regulations also specify specific development standards for a property such as minimum lot area and lot frontage, maximum building height, yards clearances and parking requirements based on the land use of the property.

Can Municipal Plans and Zoning Regulations be Amended?

A municipal plan is written to guide development in the context of a vision for a municipality’s future that establishes goals and objectives that are expected to hold over the life of the plan. However, conditions can sometimes change: new planning policies and objectives may come into play or developers may propose developments which a municipal council feel have merit.

For these and other reasons, the Provincial Urban and Rural Planning Act, 2000 authorizes a municipal council to change any portion of its municipal plan and its zoning regulations provided that procedures prescribed under the Act are closely followed by the municipality. It is expected that the public will be notified and provided with an opportunity to provide input on a proposed planning amendment before a municipal council makes any decision to formally approve an amendment.

How Does a Municipality Go About Having a Municipal Plan and/or Zoning Regulations Prepared, Updated or Amended?

If a municipality has professional municipal planners on staff, these staff members can, at the direction of their municipal council, undertake to prepare a municipal plan, zoning regulations and amendments to these documents for their council’s consideration.

If a municipality does not have professional planners on staff, the municipal council can engage a consulting firm who have professional planners on staff, to prepare a municipal plan and/or zoning regulations or to prepare updates or amendments to these planning documents.

Before municipal plans and zoning regulations or amendments to these documents can come into legal effect, they must first be reviewed by the Provincial Department of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs to determine that there are no conflicts with Provincial interests and policies. If it is determined that there are no conflicts, the documentation is issued with a Provincial registration. In order to receive Provincial registration, the Department of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs prescribes that these planning documents put forward by a municipality must be certified by a Full Member or Fellow of the Canadian Institute of Planners.

Tract Consulting has professional municipal planners who are Members of the Canadian Institute of Planners and who have extensive experience in preparing municipal plans and zoning regulations and amendments to these types of planning documents.