Zoning Reform: A New Approach to Community

Apr 22, 2019


Zoning by-laws are extremely important as they influence our health, wealth and happiness. They affect where we can live, what kind of neighbours we have, how we get to work and what kinds of jobs are nearby. They create barriers or encourage making friends, keeping streets safe and keeping fit.

Thunder Bay is currently dominated by monofunctional neighbourhoods dependent on cars. Our system is characterized by the most expensive, resource-intensive and land-consuming pattern that has ever existed. Recognizing the legacy costs and inherited infrastructure we have today, great progress has been made in recent years towards transforming our city into a leader in urban planning. We want to accelerate the pace of change and more radically enable the efforts and abilities of our planners to help build the city we need for our future.

Zoning by-laws should aim to fulfill core community needs: walking instead of driving, to ease our tax burden, to facilitate socially vibrant neighbourhoods and to help make people feel safe walking the streets at night. There is a crisis in affordable housing and we are neither attracting enough youth nor are we creating an environment where the elderly can age in comfort and ease. We need more intensive change and full package of reforms to place us on a path to financial, social or environmental health.

Vision:  A city based on walkable, mixed-use, mixed-income neighbourhoods.

The goal of zoning by-laws should be to foster 3 main goals for a healthy community:

  1. Physical and mental health – active and social people
  2. Fiscal health – prosperous businesses and a sustainable tax base
  3. Environmental health – sustainability and beautification of the urban environment

Changes We’re Seeking

Principles for a Zoning Framework:

1. Design the city around neighbourhood walksheds: fully-serviced, walkable neighbourhoods
2. Apply the harm principle – if prohibiting a use, there must be an articulatable and objective harm (ex: noise, pollution)

Practical By-Law Reform:

1. Use permissive rather than prohibitive language (“all permitted, except for”)
2. Write plain language version of City by-laws

Specific Examples:
  1. Rezone all residential areas to allow for up to 3 dwelling units – ex. Allow 2 storey single detached home to be  converted into main floor, basement and upper level apartments
  2.  Rezone all residential areas within 2 blocks of a bus route to allow for up to 6 dwelling units
  3. Create active transportation options on all streets and have trees and shrubbery on all streets
  4. Allow upper levels of all commercially-zoned space to be used for residential – ex. law office on main floor, residential space on top floor
  5. Allow small scale commercial spaces within all neighbourhoods and zoning codes – ex. limit size of building but not  what kinds of activities can be done in it – allow pizza shop, coffee shop, hairdresser, etc (apply harm principle)
  6. Allow ground level of all residential space to be used for commercial – (harm principle applies – no foul smells, pollution, excessive noise) – ex. convenience store on ground level, apartment above
  7. Simplify commercial/industrial zoning to allow for all reasonable uses of commercial and light industrial space
    – apply harm principle as exclusive barrier
  8. Prohibit monofunctional districts – exception industrial – i.e. prohibit entire area with all single detached homes and  no low rise apartments or commercial storefronts – must be mixed-use, mixed-income
  9. Strengthen and enforce provisions in the Official Plan related to densification and intensification

Practical Goals:

  1. encourage higher density construction and renovation/retrofit of existing buildings
  2. encourage intensified use of existing infrastructure and increased land values
  3. make the zoning by-laws legible to the average person who is subject to them
  4. make life easier for small-scale landlords and local business who are the main drivers of affordable housing and neighbourhood renewal


More affordable housing
Higher taxable base for the city
More dynamic business opportunities
Less red tape
Fewer vacant buildings
Healthier, more social people
Reducing environmental footprint
Dynamic urban environment that attracts youth and is senior friendly

Download the entire document (pdf) here.

The Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce' advocacy work is made possible thanks to the generous support of our

Cornerstone Members: