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Supporting the Greenbelt Plan: Planning Act Tools

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The Greenbelt is an integral part of Ontario’s objective to create strong, sustainable and healthy communities, as well as greening the province to help combat the environmental challenges facing our planet.

This InfoSheet is intended to provide information on enhanced tools in the Planning Act that are available to municipalities and could be used to further the vision and policy objectives of the Greenbelt Plan. The land use planning system in Ontario was enhanced through the Planning and Conservation Land Statute Law Amendment Act, 2006, which amended the Planning Act in several important areas.

The Greenbelt Plan

The Greenbelt protects approximately 1.8 million acres of environmentally sensitive and agricultural land around the Greater Golden Horseshoe from urban development as well as supports a wide range of recreational, tourism and cultural opportunities. It includes the Oak Ridges Moraine, the Niagara Escarpment and land known as Protected Countryside that lies at the heart of the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

The Greenbelt is a cornerstone of the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, 2006, Ontario’s over-arching strategy for managing growth for the area. The Greenbelt Plan identifies where major urban growth cannot take place.


The Planning Act provides the framework and land use tools for implementing the Greenbelt Plan, including official plans, zoning bylaws and site plan control. All municipal decisions made under the Planning Act are required to conform to the Greenbelt Plan.

In keeping with Ontario’s policy-led planning system, municipal official plans are one of the most important vehicles for the implementation of provincial policies and plans. Municipal official plans are required to be updated to conform to the Greenbelt Plan no later than at a municipality’s five year official plan review required under the Planning Act. A number of tools under the Planning Act, such as site plan control and community improvement planning, require that official plan policies be in place to enable, and provide direction, to their implementation.

In addition to official plan policies, municipal zoning bylaws are also instrumental in implementing the Greenbelt Plan. Under the Planning Act, zoning bylaws must be updated to conform to official plans within three years of an official plan update.

While the tools described in this InfoSheet are discussed in the context of the Greenbelt Plan as it applies to lands within the Protected Countryside, they may also be applicable to lands within the Oak Ridges Moraine.

In many cases these tools can be used in combination with one another to suit local circumstances for furthering the objectives of the Greenbelt Plan and helping support healthy, sustainable communities.

Did you know?

  • An image of the cover of the Greenbelt Plan, 2005.The Greenbelt Plan’s Protected Countryside area contains a Natural System that provides a continuous and permanent land base necessary to support human and ecological health in the Greenbelt and beyond.
  • The Greenbelt’s Agricultural System is made up of specialty crop areas that include the Holland Marsh and the Niagara Peninsula tender fruit and grape area, prime agricultural lands and rural areas.
  • The system of parkland, open spaces and trails across the Greenbelt supports a variety of passive and active uses, as well as health, economic and other quality of life benefits within the Greenbelt.
  • Settlement areas are recognized as an integral part of the long-term economic and social sustainability of the Greenbelt.

Planning Act Tools that Support Greenbelt Plan Implementation

From top to bottom, photographs of: brown cows in a field; tall deciduous trees; trees on a river shoreline.Complete Applications - s. 22, 34, 51 and 53

Municipalities can identify studies or reports required by the Greenbelt
Plan as part of complete application requirements in their official plans for
identified planning applications, including reports related to:

  • natural heritage evaluation and hydrological evaluation (*)
  • vegetation enhancement plan (*)
  • conservation plan (*) stormwater management plan (*).

Pre-Consultation - s. 22, 34, 41, 51

The Planning Act now enables municipalities to require pre-consultation, by bylaw, on a number of planning applications, such as site plan control submissions. Pre-consultation allows municipalities to promote sustainability and provide comments early in the process on the policies of the Greenbelt Plan and how they relate to a proposal or policy document, as well as identify those studies required to form a complete application.

Site Plan Control - s. 41

Site plan control, a well established tool that enables municipalities to secure features such as landscaping, lighting and walkways in a development, can be used in settlement and rural areas of the Greenbelt to implement Greenbelt Plan policies, provided a municipality has appropriate official plan policies.

Enhancements to the site plan control provisions of the Planning Act now permit municipalities to incorporate sustainable design elements on:

  • a site, such as green roofs, solar panels and bicycle parking facilities, and
  • road allowances adjacent to a site, such as tree planting and landscaping, lighting, street furniture and permeable surfaces.

Site plan control can also now be used for considering matters of exterior design and building character in order to create more aesthetically pleasing buildings and landscapes.

These new site plan control provisions provide an opportunity to enhance the implementation of Greenbelt Plan policies and promote sustainability by
addressing matters such as:

  • the implementation of the required vegetation enhancement plan for the expansion of a major recreational use permitted by the Greenbelt Plan
  • the implementation of Natural System policies regarding the limitation of disturbed areas and impervious surfaces (3.2*).

The enhanced ability to create greener building sites and secure streetscape improvements, which promote pedestrian friendly public spaces, will help facilitate the sustainability of the settlement areas in the Greenbelt.

Community Improvement Planning - s. 28

The Greenbelt Plan envisions that settlement areas will continue to evolve and grow through appropriate planning and economic development approaches which seek to maintain, intensify and/or revitalize these communities (3.4*).

Community improvement planning can play an important revitalization role by enabling municipalities to develop programs, including the provision of grants and loans, to redevelop and rehabilitate identified improvement areas. Projects may range from streetscape and building facade improvements to the remediation and re-use of brownfield sites, all of which can provide support to the economic, social and commercial functions of settlement areas.

Changes to the community improvement provisions in the Planning Act include a revised definition stating that construction and energy efficiency improvements are within the scope of community improvement plans. These changes also clarify that site assessment, environmental remediation and the provision of energy efficient uses are eligible for municipal community improvement grants and loans.

Prescribed upper tier municipalities can also now undertake community improvement planning for prescribed purposes (e.g. infrastructure, affordable housing). In addition, upper tiers can now participate in lower tier municipalities’ community improvement grant or loan programs and vice versa.

Development Permit System (DPS) - s. 70.2

The DPS is a tool, now available province-wide, which combines the zoning, site plan and minor variance processes into one streamlined application and approval process. O. Reg. 608/06 (Development Permits Regulation) sets out minimum requirements for use of the system by a municipality.

The DPS also provides additional features that could be utilized to support environmental protection including:

  • the ability to impose conditions including ones related to vegetation restoration, site alteration, stormwater management and ongoing monitoring requirements. For example, a condition could require ongoing monitoring to ensure that a vegetative protection zone is protecting, restoring and/or enhancing a key natural heritage feature or key hydrologic feature and its functions (*)
  • a broader definition of “development” which includes site alteration and the removal of vegetation; this could allow municipalities to better address matters such as the removal or restoration of vegetation and the placement of fill, which could only be partially addressed through traditional site plan control.

To use the DPS system, appropriate official plan policies are required and a development control bylaw must be passed. For more information on the DPS, please refer to the “Development Permit System: A Handbook for Municipal Implementation”, available on the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing website.

From left to right, photographs of: antique shop with stone exterior; peaches on a tree branch; mature tree in a field

Intensification and Infill in Settlement Areas

The Greenbelt Plan permits intensification, including infill development, in existing settlement areas. In addition to the tools already noted such as community improvement plans, other enhancements to the Planning Act that support intensification include:

  • clarifying that minimum and maximum height and density provisions can be stipulated in zoning bylaws (s. 34(3) of Planning Act)
  • permitting second units as of right in a detached house, semi-detached house or row house with no appeal of the policies to the OMB (s. 17, 22, 34), (except if part of a mandatory 5-year OP review).

Cultural Heritage Conservation

The Greenbelt Plan promotes the conservation and protection of cultural heritage resources (4.4*) in the Protected Countryside. These resources include cultural heritage landscapes such as historic villages, farmsteads and parks, built heritage sites such as barns, churches, townhalls or other similar rural landmarks, and archaelogical features or ruins.

Planning Act tools such as site plan control, community improvement plans, and/or the DPS can be used to support the conservation of these resources, by guiding appropriate redevelopment or adaptive reuse, and ensuring compatible design of developments adjacent to protected heritage properties.

From left to right, photographs of:  small yellow flowers; river lined with trees; a large and a small horse standing together in a field.

* refers to a Greenbelt Plan policy

For more information:

  • Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing
    Provincial Planning Policy Branch
    (416) 585-6014
  • Municipal Services Offices
    • Central (Toronto)
      (416) 585-6226
      Toll Free: 800-668-0230
    • Eastern (Kingston)
      (613) 545-2100
      Toll Free: 800-267-9438
    • Western (London)
      (519) 873-4020
      Toll Free: 800-265-4736

Other Resources:

Note to User: This InfoSheet deals in summarized fashion with complex matters and reflects legislation, policies and practices that are subject to change. It should not be relied upon as a substitute for specialized legal or professional advice in connection with any particular matter and should not be construed as legal advice by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. The user is solely responsible for any use or the application of this information. As such, this Ministry does not accept any legal responsibility for the contents of this InfoSheet or for any consequences, including direct or indirect liability, arising from its issue.

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