Patrick  Hulley

Patrick Hulley

Broker of Record


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In the ever-evolving world of commercial real estate, the devil does lie in the details. Whether you’re leasing or acquiring a commercial property for your future endeavors, there’s one crucial detail that reigns supreme: ZONING. This single word can mean the difference between smoothly operating within a location or being caught up in a web of regulations, seeking variances or amendments to zoning by-laws and official plans. Who needs the hassle and headaches that come with it, right?

Let’s dive into the realm of zoning by exploring the City of Kingston DASH System – an invaluable resource for zoning information and active applications. A quick glance at the active development applications reveals a bustling landscape, with hundreds of minor variances, zoning requests, and other applications in progress at any given time within the city. It’s like a soap opera, high-stakes drama but with more permits and paperwork! Applying for a zoning variance can be a viable option, provided you have ample time and the willingness of all parties involved to navigate this process, be it as a condition of lease or sale. The key lies in initiating a preliminary review with your planner, who will guide you through the process and facilitate consultations with the city (booked in advance through the planning department).

Zoning, in its essence, delineates a list of permissible uses within specific geographic areas. Here’s the twist, your intended use may not be explicitly listed, and within the zoning framework, there can be various allowable uses based on the designated area. Let’s take Employment Land Zones as an example, where retail use is defined within a specific area and considered secondary to the primary use allowed within that zone class (typically limited to 25% of the building area).

It's important to note that just because a zoning designation aligns with your specific use, does not automatically guarantee that your desired use is allowed. Yes, it may sound counterintuitive, but bear with me. Zoning essentially states, “Sure, you can engage in this specific use within this designated area, but only if you comply with the Zoning By-Law.” Let’s explore a couple of examples to shed some light on this:

Example 1) Lot Zoned for Two-Family Dwellings

Suppose you have a lot zoned for two-family dwellings. However, it’s crucial to understand that the zoning designation alone doesn’t grant you automatic permission to construct such dwellings. Any construction would be subject to the guidelines outlined in the by-law, including factors like lot area, parking requirements, and more. Failure to meet these criteria would restrict you to building only what is allowed within the existing zoning, unless you pursue an amendment or rezoning to accommodate your desired change.

Example 2) Retail Plaza Zoned for a Restaurant

Imagine your client wants to establish a sprawling, full-service sit-down restaurant within a retail plaza that boasts a diverse array of uses. While the property may be zoned for a restaurant, you may encounter a potential hurdle – parking. Each use within the plaza consumes a portion of the allocated parking space, and the developer likely projected the parking ratios based on anticipated uses. If the proposed sit-down restaurant fails to meet the required ratios, it could impede the intended use or necessitate a variance request.

It's important to recognize that any variances or zoning changes you seek do not guarantee a favourable outcome. The application process involves a thorough review by multiple divisions within the planning department, ranging from engineering to planning, with additional input from external agencies such as conservation authorities and the Ministry of Transport, among others. Moreover, a public input process adds another layer of scrutiny. Ultimately, the application undergoes review by a municipally elected committee, which determines its fate through a voting process. Even if you secure the necessary votes for the variance, there’s still a 21-day appeal period during which anyone can challenge the decision. Only after this period passes can you proceed with your desired use. Be prepared to invest a good six months, or potentially longer depending on the complexity and the need for reports, to navigate this process successfully.

A thorough understanding of zoning regulations and their implications is crucial throughout the entire process. It’s always recommended to conduct a comprehensive review of zoning and permissible uses to ensure a smooth and successful journey. I hope this exploration into zoning has provided you with some valuable insights. My aim is to ensure you feel informed and confident when it comes to commercial real estate. I welcome the opportunity to assist with your commercial real estate needs.

Let’s Talk Commercial Real Estate!

Article By: Patrick Hulley, Broker of Record – President
RE/MAX RISE Executives, Brokerage – Commercial Division

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