top of page

What Is Site Plan Approval?

Site Plan Approval (SPA) is a term that many people may have heard before and can link to construction, but few people outside of the construction industry understand what it is. This blog will aim to explain what Site Plan Approval is all about and a few important points for potential developers to understand.

What is Site Plan Approval and what purpose does it serve?

Site Plan Approval is what I like to call the “Big Brother” to the building permit process. I coined it the big brother because it is generally a larger process than the building permit with added complexities and it has the ability to squash unrealistic expectations in terms of timelines.

Site Plan Approval has many of the same purposes as the building permit process but from a different angle. Site Plan Approval comes with the added element of negotiation and politics that the building permit process does not have. The building permit process focuses on the Ontario Building Code which encompasses matters like, Life Safety, Fire Code, Accessibility Code, Environmental Codes, and many others. In a future blog I’ll talk more about this.

The primary purpose for Site Plan Approval is to provide the city an opportunity to ensure a proposed development matches the requirements of the Federal, Provincial, and Municipal laws, by-laws, zoning, and official plans. Site Plan Approval process ultimately leads to a Development Agreement which is a legally binding agreement between the property owner and the City/Town/Municipality outlining the scope of the development.

The Site Plan Approval process notifies and ensures that other bodies of jurisdiction have a chance to review and comment on the plans. The MTO, MTE, Conversation Authorities, Archeological Authorities and many others get an opportunity to make sure their voices are heard. If any aspect of the development does not match the requirements, the Site Plan Approval process identifies these “Variances” or “Changes of Use” and ensures the developer obtains the correct approvals before proceeding to the Development Agreement.

Typical time frame for Site Plan Approval

The time frame for Site Plan Approval ranges depending on many factors. It is rare that any application moves through the process with a single submission. It is normal for 2-3 submissions to take place before every requirement has been negotiated on and satisfies all parties involved.

If the development has the correct zoning and does not require any Variances or Changes of Use, an application may be able to receive approval in a couple of months. However, there is also the development agreement to consider which may add an additional month. This is the best-case scenario. Site Plan Agreements are notorious for holding up developments for months and even years. If you are in rural Ontario and have a fairly typical development that meets zoning, you should not be worried, however the process could still take 6 months from the time of submission. If your development requires a zoning variance or change of use, there is no guarantee your development will be able to proceed at all.

In summary, there is no catch-all answer for how long it takes to maneuver through Site Plan Approval. For the type of work we do at Baribeau Construction, we typically caution a client that once submitted, an application will take 4-8 months depending on the project and location.

Who leads through Site Plan Approval?

Similar to the answers above, it depends on the complexity of the project. If a project is very simple, your Project Manager or Designer may be able to lead through this process. However, the more complicated it gets, the more depth of knowledge you will need to assist you. Often, we see Architects, Engineers, Project Managers, Construction Managers, or Land Planners lead through this process. Since there is an element of negotiation with this process, this is not an area you want to do yourself. Having a consultant with insight into the local planning documents or existing professional relationship with the Local City Staff is a great asset. These consultants often know which items the city will let go and which ones they will be particular about. If you have already selected a contractor or designer, start by asking them who should lead through the process.

Where do I start in the Site Plan Approval process?

Since the process for site plan approval has become increasingly complicated, law makers wisely implemented a Site Plan Pre-consultation process (SPC). SPC is essentially a forced feasibility study where developers submit a preliminary application for the city staff to review, provide preliminary comments on, and provide a list of everything that will be required for the first full submission. SPC typically requires owner information, property information, a preliminary site plan drawing, and other development assumptions. Basically, you need to submit sufficient information for the city staff to understand what is generally being proposed so they can provide you with a list of what you need for the full submission.

Site Plan Approval is often considered one of the most difficult processes to maneuver through in construction. It is the reason that construction is experiencing more red tape than ever before. However, the purpose of site plan approval is a good thing. As society continues to grow in complexity, we need to take into consideration our neighbors and the direction that our Towns and City’s are going. Site Plan Approval puts this notion into action.

*Note, this blog is intended to provide general information on various construction related topics. Contact your local construction professional for advice related to your own projects. Should you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact us at or post your question in the comments below.


bottom of page