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Pre-Design & Review Process

Understanding the pre-design process, required stages and the associated timelines is important when planning your construction or renovation project. Depending on your location, age of your home and the size of your project, getting a shovel in the ground may not be as quick as you think!

Pre-Design Phase

Pre-design (pre-permit) is when the budget, timeline, and scope of the project are established.

There are four (4) stages in the pre-design process:

  1. Researching and Drafting Your Design Plans 
  2. Zoning Review 
  3. Regulatory Organizations 
  4. Committee of Adjustment 

Not all projects require all four stages which means durations to get to permit application will vary.

  • Interior Renovations (2-4 weeks): Stage 1 only (no survey is required) 
  • Additions & New Construction (3-38 weeks): Stage 1, 2, 3 and 4 (Stages 2, 3 and 4 are situational for each project)

The average stage durations are shown are based on our experience with the City of Toronto, Burlington, Oakville, and Mississauga. Below is a summary of all four stages. The tasks listed within each stage occur simultaneously.

Stage 1) – Researching and Drafting Your Design Plans (2-4 weeks total duration)

Researching your property (Average Duration:  1-2 Days)

The first step to design is to determine building size limits, setbacks, parking, and other zoning requirements. This varies between municipalities and is specific to your property.

Requesting building records (Average Duration: 1 Week)

If previous work has been completed on your property, you may be able find copies of the site plans, surveys, drain plans, and building plans in the municipality records.

Drafting your plans (Average Duration: 2-4 Weeks)

When submitting drawings to the City, it is important that they are complete and of high quality. Sketches typically are not acceptable drawings. A plan examiner can only approve a project when a plan is complete.  

Your options for preparing drawings include hiring a Designer, Architect or doing it yourself (if it is your residence). In some cases, you may be required to hire an Engineer to prepare the drawings for you. 

Obtaining a property survey and preparing your lot grading plan (Average Duration: 2-3 Weeks) 

For additions and new construction, you will need to provide drawings that show where the project will be built. There are three key documents that show plan examiners how your project affects your neighbours, your neighbourhood, and property.

  1. A property survey is a formal legal document prepared and sealed by a registered Ontario Land Surveyor that describes your property.  
  2. A site plan is prepared by an architect or designer from the survey and shows where the proposed work will be built on a site. 
  3. A lot grading plan is prepared by a surveyor and sealed by a professional engineer. It provides information on the lot such as dimensions of the lot lines, the location of any existing and/or proposed buildings and shows proposed changes to the elevations on the property. 

Stage 2) – Optional Preliminary Zoning Review (3-4 Weeks)

Some municipalities offer a service called a preliminary zoning review. The purpose of this service is to determine whether your project complies with the zoning requirements for your property before applying for a building permit.

The preliminary zoning review is not mandatory but obtaining a preliminary zoning review means that when you are ready to apply for your building permit, it can be processed faster.

Toronto offers two types of preliminary zoning reviews for residential projects:

  1. A Zoning Certificate Review  
  2. A Preliminary Project Review

The highlights and benefits of each are outlined online at

Stage 3) – If Required; Regulatory Organizations (4-24 weeks)

Conservation Authority (Average Duration: 4-8 Weeks) 

If you live close to a stream, river, valley, a wetland or on the waterfront, you may need approval from the conservation authority before proceeding with any work. They regulate and may prohibit work from taking place within associated areas. If the proposed work is located within a regulated area, the owner must apply for a development permit.  

There are 36 Conservation Authorities located across Ontario. Find out which conservation authority you are regulated by with this interactive map: Find a Conservation Authority // Conservation Ontario 

Heritage Committee (Average Duration: 4-8 Weeks) 

The Heritage Advisory Committee is an advisory committee who is responsible to review your proposed changes to a heritage building. Heritage Committee members are residents who serve as volunteers to carry out the mandate of the Committee. 

The Committee’s mandate is: 

  1. To promote the conservation of the municipality’s cultural heritage. 
  2. To provide the community advice to the Community Planning, Regulation and Mobility Committee and Council on issues related to the conservation of the municipality’s cultural heritage.

A building, structure or site may be considered important for a variety of reasons, including: 

  1. Architectural, physical or design value. 
  2. Historical or associative value because of its association with a significant person, important event, or a critical time in the community’s development. 
  3. Contextual value in defining, maintaining, or representing characteristics of an area or community. 

Once a property is deemed by the Committee to have cultural heritage value, a recommendation is made to the City Council. Ultimate authority as to whether a property is designated or not, is done by the Council. 

Site Plan Approval (Average Duration: 16-24 Weeks)

If you are planning construction of a new building or addition, and the property is subject to site plan control, you will need to apply for site plan approval. To find out if you need site plan approval, you can call your local municipality. 

The purpose of site plan approval is to review the location and design of buildings and structures, maintain urban and landscape design guidelines, and include sustainable design standards. 

Stage 4) – If Required; The Committee of Adjustment (6-10 weeks) 

You can adjust your plan to comply with the bylaws, or you can apply for relief from the zoning requirements from the Committee of Adjustment. This relief is known as a minor/major variance.  

The Committee of Adjustment is an administrative tribunal responsible for making decisions on minor variances from the Zoning Bylaw independent from City Council. The minor variance process involves a public hearing. 

There are fees associated with applying for a variance varies for each municipality

Committee of Adjustment Process

  1. Is the variance minor?  
  2. Is the variance appropriate for development of the site?  
  3. Is the variance within the intent of the Official Plan?  
  4. Is the variance within the intent of the Zoning Bylaw? 

Once you have completed your pre-design review, you are ready for permit design

If you are looking for a great design team, you should contact us at  

For a free consultation service to understand what is required for your project: Free Guide – SQVIS 

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If you have any questions, kindly reach out to us.

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Have a great day!  
Eternity Engineering Inc. 

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