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​How Planning Works

Planning is a process through which the community shapes the place in which its members live. Together, we use the planning process to manage and organize our land and our community and natural resources based on shared goals and a long-term vision.

Planning responds to current and emerging community needs. It values the voices of residents, businesses, and community partners. It enables us to decide how we want to achieve our social, environmental, and economic objectives, and helps us balance the interests and rights of individual property owners with the broader public interest.

Planning engages the entire community in setting goals and investment priorities that will shape growth and guide change. It ensures different uses are assigned the right type and amount of land in the appropriate location; coordinates orderly development with the availability of infrastructure, services, and facilities; prevents conflicts between land uses; protects natural resources; and enhances the community’s cultural assets.

Planning in Ontario

Planning in Ontario takes place within a multi-level policy hierarchy in which higher-level plans and policies help inform and guide decisions made at lower levels. Planning decisions made at the local level are meant to reflect and respond to each community’s unique situation and context. The multi-level framework means these decisions need to conform with plans and policies that have been put in place at higher levels of government, whether provincial or regional.

The City of Barrie is a “single-tier” municipality. This means City decisions are not legally required to conform with plans and policies set by a regional-level government, though they must still conform with those set at the provincial level. In contrast, our neighbouring municipalities are considered “lower-tier” municipalities within the “upper-tier” County of Simcoe, and thus have to ensure their decisions match County-level policy.

Planning Act

The Planning Act is the central piece of provincial legislation governing land use planning in Ontario. It provides the legal foundation for most of the tools that city planners and municipal councils use to make planning decisions. Other provincial statutes, including the Municipal Act, the Ontario Heritage Act, and the Lake Simcoe Protection Act, also help guide decisions made at the local level.

Provincial Policy Statement   

The Provincial Policy Statement (PPS), issued under section 3 of the Planning Act, sets out policies regarding matters of provincial interest, such as managing natural resources, providing efficient infrastructure, and safeguarding public health and safety. The policies in the PPS are meant to guide long-term planning and development while ensuring that these and other matters of provincial interest are considered. Local decisions must be consistent with the PPS.

Provincial Plans

The Province also develops provincial plans, such as the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (commonly referred to simply as the “Growth Plan”), the Greenbelt Plan, and the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan. Local-level official plans must conform with these and other provincial plans.

Working within this policy framework, local governments adopt policies and enact by-laws to address their own specific circumstances and to reflect their unique geography, culture, assets, and goals.

Official Plan

The City of Barrie’s Official Plan presents a vision for the future growth of Barrie and a policy framework to guide its organization and physical development. It also provides a foundation for the City’s planning strategies and infrastructure master plans.

The Official Plan sets out where residential, commercial, institutional, and employment areas are to be located and how they will grow. It provides details about the City’s transportation network, sewer system, and water treatment facilities, as well as parks, recreational facilities, and community services.

The City is currently in the process of reviewing and updating its Official Plan. Under the Planning Act, a municipality must update its official plan within 10 years of it first coming into effect, and at least once every five years after that. This review is a public process, and we encourage Barrie citizens to participate. You can get involved by visiting

Zoning By-law

Barrie's Comprehensive Zoning By-law (By-law 2009-141) is the primary tool that the City uses to implement the vision set out in its Official Plan. The Zoning By-law establishes specific land-use designations prescribing how properties may be used and sets out standards for the physical form and organization of buildings on those properties. It also addresses such details as lot dimensions and coverage, building height and setbacks, parking requirements, and amenity space.

Barrie residents may need to refer to the Zoning By-law from time to time, especially if they are considering an improvement or expansion to their home or business. Referring to the Zoning By-law is also recommended for those considering the sale or purchase of a particular property to ensure that the intended use of the property is in fact permitted in that zone.

Research Studies, Strategies & Policies

The City often undertakes background studies on specific planning-related topics to ensure that existing policies respond appropriately to current and emerging challenges and opportunities. These studies can also provide important background information for updates to the Official Plan and the Zoning By-law.

Major planning studies can relate to matters such as affordable housing, environmental protection, downtown revitalization, heritage conservation, and economic development. These studies also involve public consultation and engagement, and residents are encouraged to get involved.

Community Improvement Plans

Community Improvement Plans (CIPs) enable the City to assist property owners in making improvements that will benefit the wider community. The City currently has two CIPs in effect—the Built Boundary CIP and the Georgian College Neighbourhood CIP—that offer a number of financial incentives for developers, business owners, and homeowners.

Committee of Adjustment

The Zoning By-law sets general rules and standards that cover the entire City of Barrie. Sometimes, however, it is appropriate to permit slight deviations from these standards for a particular piece of land. The Committee of Adjustment’s role is to determine when such deviations are appropriate.

The Committee of Adjustment is a local decision-making body that operates under the Planning Act. Committee members are appointed by City Council, but the Committee operates at arm’s length from the City administration. The Committee of Adjustment meets once per month. See meeting schedule, agendas, and decisions.

The Committee of Adjustment makes decisions on applications for the following:

Minor Variances

The Committee of Adjustment can approve a minor variance from the standards established in the Zoning By-law (or in an Interim Control By-law). This decision is based on the following criteria (often referred to as “the four tests”):

  1. Does the variance maintain the general intent and purpose of the Official Plan?
  2. Does the variance maintain the general intent and purpose of the Zoning By-law?
  3. Is the variance in fact minor? “Minor” in this case refers to both the size and the impact of the variance; there is no specific numerical benchmark regarding what counts as “minor.”
  4. Is the variance desirable for the appropriate development or use of the land or the building? Determining whether a variance is desirable involves considering not just what is appropriate for the specific property in question, but also factors that could affect the broader public interest.
Enlargements or Extensions of Legal Non-Conforming Uses, Buildings, or Structures

A “legal non-conforming” use, building, or structure is one that existed legally when the current Zoning By-law was passed; for legal non-conforming uses, the use must also have continued up to the present day. The Committee of Adjustment can permit additions to legal non-conforming buildings and structures (as long as these don’t exceed the property boundaries that existed when the Zoning By-law was passed). The Committee can also permit other uses that are similar to the legal non-conforming use or that are more in line with those permitted under the current Zoning By-law.


The Committee of Adjustment can grant a consent to create a new lot from an existing lot, as long as the Committee is satisfied that a Plan of Subdivision isn’t required for the appropriate and orderly development of the land.

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