Does your landscape project require a permit(s)?

ByKevin Post

Does your landscape project require a permit(s)?

You plan out your new walkway and retaining wall. You figure it will take you about two weekends to complete. You start your project. You set the grades. You dig to the depths shown on your plans. Things are just moving along perfectly. Then you receive a stop work order and are given a big fine. Next thing you know you are in the courts fighting the fine and trying to get your project started again since some of the stop work order was to revert the space back to the previous state.

Many of the Cities and Townships have requirements over and above the Ontario Building Code that require you to obtain a site plan approval and/or a building permit before starting certain types of landscape projects. Some of these permits carry fairly steep fines for breaking them. In Toronto, if you injure a tree without a permit, you can be fined up to a maximum of $100,000.00 per tree involved in the offense.

Permits are typically required for any retaining wall over 90 cm (3 feet), along with any deck 60 cm (2 feet) or more above the ground. In Hamilton, any deck over 10 square meters (90 square feet) at any height off the ground requires a permit. In Toronto, as mentioned above, any work within including access through the root zone of a tree requires a permit.

Along with the building permit requirements, most municipalities also have zoning and urban design guideline requirements. Some require a minimum 1.5 meter wide landscape buffer between hard surfaces and adjacent properties, whereas in other municipalities you can pave right to the property line.

It is worth the quick call to your local City’s building department to ask if you need any permits before starting. Some of these permits can take over a month or two to receive if it is a straight forward application to over a year or two for zoning changes. Most municipalities can typically give you a yes or no answer for permit requirements over the phone or email. If you do need a permit, a landscape architect like myself, can help you to filter through the permit application requirements and prepare the required drawings and documentations. For some projects, such retaining walls over 3 feet and high decks, a structural engineer review and approval may be required, which I can also assist you with.

So remember to check to see if your project requires a permit and always do your utilities locates before starting.

Have you had any horror stories dealing with the City’s By-law or Building Department? We would like to hear about them.

Kevin Post
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