What is a Minor Variance? Here are some definitions from across Ontario


Recent posts about related issues include:

Please send a letter to the Committee of Adjustment opposing the 20 Elton severance application in Long Branch

Two additional letters to Committee of Adjustment regarding 20 Elton Crescent

[End of update]

Peggy Moulder of the Lakeshore Planning Council has shared some thoughts which I am pleased to post below.

I am not a member of the Lakeshore Planning Council.

There is value in knowing about how jurisdictions other than the City of Toronto approach the matter of definitions. I do not know the source of the texts that are listed below; I assume they may be available online.

In Toronto, perhaps like in other jurisdictions (I wouldn’t know), I have the sense that in many cases, what is written by way of definitions is not what is consistently adhered to in practice when planning decisions are made.

That is, it may be stated in writing that “Minor” in some sense means “Minor” but in practice it may be clear that “Minor” means “Major.”

One thinks at times of the tale of “Alice in Wonderland” or the fictional works of Franz Kafka.

It is noteworthy that a subtle and in some cases blatant rearranging of what language means has occurred, in relation to the recent history of planning decisions at the City of Toronto, the outcome of which is that some words – in particular in relation to Adjustments or Variances – mean the opposite of the standard meaning of a given word.

There is at times a sense that in practice, with regard to the outcomes of urban planning deliberations at the City of Toronto, words mean the opposite of what they mean in everyday usage.

In effect, what is stated as being Up is in practice Down, and what is stated as being Down is in practice Up.

This is not a minor issue; the point warrants emphasis. If language were to lose its utility on a wide scale, then concepts such as truthfulness, integrity, and clarity would also lose their meaning.

A related question comes to mind: At the City of Toronto, who are the de facto urban planners? Not entirely rhetorical, the question relates to readily evident, practical outcomes as evidenced by a walking tour of the streets of Long Branch.

The question of what words mean, in relation to planning decisions at the City of Toronto, is a topic worth exploring; it would make a good topic for a thesis for a graduate student of linguistic anthropology by way of example.

The topic brings to mind broader questions including: Is it possible for a civil society to flourish or survive at the City of Toronto under conditions, as currently appear to be in place, where the meaning of words is is systematically and consistently subverted?

Peggy Moulder has shared the following thoughts:

What is a Minor Variance?

Do City of Toronto Committees of Adjustment too often allow “minor variances” when they are not necessary or even minor?

The following municipalities have defined a “minor variance” for their Zoning By-Laws:


A Minor Variance is a small change to the Zoning By-law, most often obtained for an individual property. The applicant must first demonstrate that the variance is necessary and why there are practical difficulties in carrying out the strict regulations of the Zoning By-law. The application must conform to the Official Plan and the intent of the Zoning By-law.


The minor variance application process is a method to seek relief through a Committee of Adjustment when hardship or circumstances make it difficult to meet any of the standards listed in the by-law.

Lanark Highlands

The owner of a property or any person authorized in writing by the owner who is unable to comply with the provisions of the Zoning By-Law may apply to the Committee of Adjustment by means of an “Application for Minor Variance” for relief from the Zoning By-Law.


Minor Variance Applications are often necessitated by circumstances peculiar to a property which prevent the owner from developing it in a way which conforms to a Zoning By-law.


A minor variance process can be pursued to provide relief to property owners from a Zoning By-law requirement(s) they may be unable to comply with. For example if a property owner wishes to build a new shed but cannot meet the minimum setback requirement for development in that zone, an option may be to apply for a minor variance.


A minor variance application process is a method for property owners to seek relief or variance through a Committee of Adjustment when circumstances make it difficult to meet the standards recorded in the zoning bylaw.

Would it be in the best interests of our established neighbourhoods for the City of Toronto to adopt a similar definition for a “minor variance”?


[End of text from Peggy Moulder]


3 replies
  1. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    Good point. Let us see how things work out. The legislation, once enacted, will in future years be revisited.

    It will be interest to see what Rules & Regulations are set up, to go with Bill 139.

  2. George Gordon
    George Gordon says:

    Homeowners should be protect by zoning by-laws to prevent intrusion of buildings that are incompatible with the others in terms of mass, height, and bulk on the street and that bring dissonance to the character of the neighborhood.


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