Reference: Citizens’ Guide: Zoning Bylaws (Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing)

Zoning by-laws typically specify the areas in which residential, industrial, recreational or commercial activities may take place. For example, an R-1 residential zone might allow only single-family detached homes as opposed to duplexes or apartment complexes. On the other hand, a C-1 commercial zone might be zoned to permit only certain commercial or industrial uses in one jurisdiction, but permit a mix of housing and businesses in another jurisdiction.

What else do zoning by-laws regulate/define?

Besides restricting the uses that can be made of land and buildings, zoning by-laws also may regulate the dimensional requirements for lots and for buildings on property located within the town, the density of development, and whether you can have pigeons, dogs, sheep or llamas. Some zoning ordinances also regulate the extraction of natural resources from land within the zoned area, others provide space for hospitals, parks, schools, and open space and still others protect places of historical significance within the community.

Who controls zoning?

Zoning is a purely a county, city, or municipal affair. Though such laws are somewhat universal, the classifications used to describe zoning are not uniform from place to place. For instance, it is not uncommon to find that zoning rules that apply to one part of the community are different in another part of the town, or that one town does a mix of residential uses with some commercial uses but a neighbouring community might outlaw such mix.

What are some major types of zoning classifications?

Classifications are not the same from place to place. The most frequently-used groups are

  • commercial,
  • industrial,
  • residential, and
  • agricultural.

These groups may be used in various combinations.

Within each of these general categories are more narrowly defined divisions. For example, a residential zone might be segregated into separate zones for single-family homes on one acre, single family homes on a half acre, hotels, boardinghouses, mobile homes, low-rise apartment complexes, high-rise apartment complexes, or institutional housing. An industrial zone may be zoned “heavy”, “light”, or “research”. A commercial zone can be divided into small stores, shopping centers, gas stations, restaurants, drive-in facilities, adult-entertainment districts, and warehouses.

Is zoning permanent?

No. A zoning classification is not set in stone. Don’t assume that because you are in a residential-use-only zone that the 10-acre vacant lot sitting across the street cannot be built up as a rooming house, or worse, as a private club for college students. Zoning laws can be, and have been, relaxed and exceptions made.

What do all the zoning symbols, such as R2, or I3 mean?

Zoning symbols vary among communities. An R2 zone in one community is not necessarily the same as an R2 in another community. Frequently, communities use letters of the alphabet as code abbreviations to identify the use allowed in a physical geographic area, such as A for agricultural (or airport or apartments), R for residential, C for commercial, I or M (industrial or manufacturing) and P for park or parking lots. These symbols are usually followed by a number to specify the level of use; for example, the common generalizations are R1 for a single-family home, R2 for two-dwelling units, R3 for a apartment complexes, and so forth.  The level of use typically corresponds with the density of the zone.



Modern urban planning emerged as a profession in the early decades of the 20th century, largely as a response to the appalling sanitary, social, and economic conditions of rapidly-growing industrial cities. Initially the disciplines of architecture and civil engineering provided the nucleus of concerned professionals. They were joined by public health specialists, economists, sociologists, lawyers, and geographers, as the complexities of managing cities came to be more fully understood. Contemporary urban and regional planning techniques for survey, analysis, design, and implementation developed from an interdisciplinary synthesis of these fields.

Today, urban planning can be described as a technical and political process concerned with the welfare of people, control of the use of land, design of the urban environment including transportation and communication networks, and protection and enhancement of the natural environment.




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