Our parody on the Twelve Days of Christmas continues. We dare you not to sing them out loud!

Three French city planners

Two steel-toed boots,

and a journal for my hopes and dreams!


I use French city planners here, only to stay true to the song. Actually, employees of the planning and zoning departments seem to speak a language unto themselves. It is best to familiarize yourself with some essential terminology:

Zoning – Zoning is used to guide development in a manner that is compatible with its neighbours, having minimal negative impact on its surroundings. Zoning regulations and by-laws are used as a means of carrying forward community visions and directions into the community.

Setbacks – The spacing of a home in relation to the building lot is determined by the setbacks. These are the required distances that a building must be located away from the streets, easements, and other structures. The size of the setbacks is determined by a municipality’s Planning and Zoning Department and the size of the setback depends on the zoning of the property. Before building any type of structure, a property owner should contact his city’s Planning and Zoning Department and ask about the property setbacks.

Ridge Height – This is the very highest point of the building. Before purchasing a plan or having a custom home designed, a property owner should contact his city’s Planning department and ask about the allowable ridge height for the given property. It is wise to also verify their specifics as to where they take the measurement from as there are some regional differences in this calculation.

Easement – A limited right of use of another’s land by a landowner for the benefit of his land. The land receiving the benefit is called the dominant tenement and the land granting the benefit is called the servient tenement.

Site Plan (aka Lot Plan or Plot Plan) – A site plan is an architectural drawing that displays all the major features and structures on a piece of property. The required information included on a site plan can vary by project and region, but will generally include the location of all structures, porches, and decks. It may also include swimming pools and landscape, as well as underground and aboveground utilities. Most site plans will also show the lot lines (property boundaries) along with a brief description of adjacent properties.

Depending on the complexity of the project, site plans may be drawn by surveyors, architects, engineers, or homeowners. When developing a site plan, starting with an existing site plan is easiest. These can often be found at the local land records office. Alternatively, the person creating the plan must start from scratch by taking measurements or surveying the land. Once the site plan is submitted to the local permit agency, a copy is often kept on record for future use or reference. As always, contact your local planning office to clarify what specific information is required and in what format. The site plan below is fairly typical of the information required.

Variance – A variance is a request to deviate from current zoning requirements. If granted, it permits the owner to use his land in a way that is ordinarily not permitted by the zoning ordinance. It is not a change in the zoning law but a waiver of a certain requirement of the zoning ordinance. Examples where a variance might be apply would be to build a gazebo in the back yard, add a second story in a one-story zone, allow a higher ridgeline, or to allow the owner of an odd-shaped lot to reduce slightly the setback requirements in order to fit a building.

Stay tuned for all 12 days of building or check the articles you may have missed! Happy Holidays!