What is an Official Plan? What is a Secondary Plan?

Environmental Studies PhD student Colin Khan has provided this account in case you might not be quite on top of the logic of the planning processes in the city. Thanks Colin!

A municipality’s Official Plan (OP) is part of the Province of Ontario planning process. OPs are used to describe and manage the various (and sometimes competing) land uses within municipalities. Planning is a tiered process, meaning that all municipal OPs must conform to the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS). In turn, the OP directs all community master plans including transportation, infrastructure, and greenspace. The OP also outlines zoning by-laws, development reviews, urban design, and any secondary plans or community development plans. This helps to maintain responsible development and establishes rules and designations for specific land uses.

OPs must be reviewed and updated at least every five years as community needs are constantly changing. As a citizen you have opportunities to provide input during such updates. Attending information sessions and public meetings, as well as participating in community groups and contacting local Council are all ways to learn more and provide feedback on an OP.

Kingston is promoted as the most sustainable city in Ontario and perhaps even in all of Canada but to achieve this we need to be more involved in the municipal planning process and we need to work with Council to ensure that future developments and/or redevelopments are legitimately required, socially responsible, economically feasible, and environmentally sound. Kingston’s OP is currently under review and residents were recently invited to give comments on a draft. There will be another round of consultation in future..

Meanwhile, Kingston is also about to embark on a Secondary Plan (SP) for the Old Industrial Area and Inner Harbour. An SP is part of a municipal Official Plan (OP), or becomes an amendment to it, and it is used to direct development within specific regions of a given municipality. An SP helps to define more locally what land uses are available and describes when/how these designations should be developed if desired by interested stakeholders. While OPs outline broader development goals of an entire municipality SPs are useful in addressing community needs at a finer scale. Perhaps there is a need for more housing or public transit in a suburban neighborhood, or it may be time for necessary infrastructure renovations in a downtown core. Citizens, Council, and developers can work together to provide input into an SP as they can with the OP.

Often different scenarios of a given development are provided by developers and opportunities to comment on these are offered to the general public. An advantage of an SP is that it can be proposed, evaluated, written, and enacted independently from the five-year OP review cycle. A good SP ensures that local development is actually required and endorsed by the community and it also must respect the overarching OP.

We might add: the reasons we asked Council and Staff to make sure the review of the WSE is flagged in the OP is that sometimes it seems hard to find the end of the thread when trying to get the WSE out of all the various planning documents. Even if the SP is staff’s chosen procedure for the consultation that could take the WSE out of the OP and other policies, we want the updated OP to acknowledge that the WSE is, as of 2015, no longer an uncontroversial idea. That way, people can’t say, oh, you can’t use an SP to recommend against the WSE because it’s in the OP. We can say, no, the OP says it’s under review; we’re reviewing it; whatever conclusion we come to can then become policy. Got that :)? You can now impress your friends and neighbours (or your city councillor) with your fluency in planning acronyms.

–Laura Murray


One thought on “What is an Official Plan? What is a Secondary Plan?

  1. A super blog entry. One question though – I’m not sure the SP is actually the city’s preferred way of addressing the WSE in the OP question. All I have ever heard is that yet another EA is required. I’m still not clear on how the SP and the EA are possibly related. I am presuming that if the WSE is either recommended or not recommended in the SP, that an EA might still be required?


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