The New City of Thunder Bay Zoning By-Law

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The new City of Thunder Bay, By-Law No. 1/2022, Zoning By-Law (the “2022 Zoning By-Law”) was approved by City Council on April 11, 2022. Implementation of the 2022 Zoning By-Law was delayed due to several property-specific appeals of the Zoning By-Law to the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT). On September 27, 2022, the OLT ordered that the 2022 Zoning By-Law can now be implemented, prior to the appeals be being heard (Dias et al v Thunder Bay (City), 2022 CanLII 91984 (Ont LT)).


What Does This Mean?

The 2022 Zoning By-Law is now in effect and has been deemed to have come into effect as of the date it was passed by City Council.


Why Does This Matter?

Zoning will dictate what you can or cannot do with property within the City of Thunder Bay. It will determine, for example, whether you can convert space into a rental unit, operate a home business, or build your dream home or garage.


What’s New?

The 2022 Zoning By-Law encourages infill development by increasing density, limiting urban sprawl and decreasing parking requirements, and provides for new types of housing on residential lots, such as backyard homes. Commercial properties now have expanded opportunities for retail or office use. The new By-law also has “Business Zones” to encourage additional business development. Some specific highlights include:

Urban Neighbourhoods (UL, UM, UH, UX, NC)
  • Defined as being where the majority of urban scale housing exists and will be developed with municipal water and sever services, Urban Neighbourhoods include different zones permitting low, mid, or high-rise housing within Thunder Bay, with added allowances for a range of small-scale non-residential uses.
  • The previous four residential zones are now collapsed into an “urban low-rise zone” (UL), which permits between 1 and 3 additional units per lot, by way of additions and “backyard homes”.
  • Most properties located within the new UL zone will be able to have up to 2 homes, which incorporates basement apartments or mother-in-law suites.
  • Minimum parking requirements have dropped from 1.5 to 1 for each home on a property.
  • The 2022 Zoning By-Law introduces the concept of a “backyard home”, which is a home contained within an accessory building on the same lot as an existing house (detached, semi-detached, or townhouse).
  • A backyard home may be permitted, depending on the type of house (apartment, converted house, detached house, townhouse) and the location of the backyard home on the lot (setbacks, walkways).
Pedestrian Commercial Areas (MS, DN, WC)
  • Defined as traditional shopping streets at a walkable scale, the purpose of these zones are to prioritize the pedestrian experience in the two “traditional” downtowns (Port Arthur and Fort William), as well as the Westfort business area.
  • The purpose of the Main Street Zone (MS) is to create a continuous and vibrant commercial street. Uses ranging from shopping to restaurants will be permitted on all stories of buildings in this zone, while housing is restricted to upper floors only.
  • The purpose of the Downtown Neighbourhood Zone (DN) is to permit a wider range of uses to support the Main Street Zone. Additional permitted uses in this zone include apartments, commercial parking, and educational institutions.
  • The purpose of the Waterfront Commercial Zone (WC) is to permit waterfront-related commercial uses, recreational opportunities, and entertainment facilities. As with the Main Street Zone, commercial uses ranging from restaurants to retail uses are permitted on all stories of buildings in this zone, with heath centres and offices permitted only on upper floors.
Commuter Commercial Areas (SC, CC, RC)
  • Defined as shopping and service areas primarily designed for motor vehicle travel which also support public transit and active transportation communities, these zones include commercial uses such as retail, offices, drive-throughs, and motor vehicle dealerships.
  • Office and retail uses are now permitted in all Commuter Commercial Areas in order to provide businesses with greater flexibility and the ability to establish a wide range of locations.
Business Areas (LI, BU)
  • Defined as  including offices and workspaces for various industries. In addition, Business Areas permit select industrial activities, as well as restaurants and recreation uses which support these areas.
  • The purpose of the Light Industrial zone (LI) is to permit a range of commercial and non-disruptive industrial uses, such as motor vehicle sale, rental or service, and outdoor storage.
  • The purpose of the Business Zone (BU) is to create an ideal location for business offices, along with complementary uses such as hotels, recreation areas, and restaurants.


How do I figure out what Zone applies to my property?

The easiest way to figure out which zone applies to your property is to use the City of Thunder Bay’s interactive zoning map.

Once you determine your property’s zone, you can then determine the permitted uses for your property, and how you might be able to develop it in the future.


What if I want to use my property for something not permitted by the 2022 Zoning By-Law, or my existing use is no longer permitted under the 2022 Zoning By-Law?

  • A legal non-conforming use, sometimes referred to as being “grandfathered”, means that a property is being used for something that was compliant with zoning when the use was first started, but is no longer permitted under the current zoning for the property. In order for a use to be legal non-conforming, then the use must have been compliant with zoning when the use started, and the use must have continued uninterrupted from that point to the present date. Existing legal non-conforming status will be lost if the use is not continued. In other words, if you start using the property for something else, then going forward, the previously legal non-conforming use will be lost.
  • Absent a legal non-conforming use, if your intended use of the property doesn’t meet the 2022 Zoning By-Law requirements for the property, you may need to seek a minor variance or a zoning by-law amendment.
  • Commencing or continuing an “illegal use” can subject you to fines, orders to remedy the zoning infraction, or legal action. Additionally, you may have difficulties selling your property in the future if you are using the property for something that is not permitted.
  • At the time of purchasing a property, you, or more likely your lawyer, should be inquiring about the zoning of the subject property and whether your intended use is permitted.


Is there anything else I might need to consider?

In addition to the 2022 Zoning By-Law, you may also want to review the City of Thunder Bay’s Official Plan.

Also keep in mind that even if a use is permitted within your property’s applicable zone, in order to commence the use, you may need to seek additional licenses or permits. For example, many construction projects will require a building permit and inspections, and some business ventures will require additional licenses or authorizations (e.g., day cares).

If you have lot or use specific questions about zoning, questions about how the 2022 Zoning By-Law may affect you, would like to discuss pursuing a minor variance or zoning by-law amendment, or have other questions relating to your property, we welcome you to get in touch with a our experienced team of real estate lawyers at CARREL+Partners today.

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This publication is for general information purposes and is not to be taken as legal advice. The information within is current only to the date of publishing. If you have any questions regarding article content, please contact the author(s) directly.