Day Job and Hobby Time Collide: Researching Information on Structures on the City Website

The Internet is a wonderful thing, sometimes.  One place that is has become a wonderful thing is that as the requirements for better and more open data and making information regarding land use planning applications have been increased, in major cities in Ontario at least, a huge font of once hard to find information is now regularly posted on the internet for all to access.  I wrote about this previously many months ago in relation to my model of 587 Yonge Street, and finding survey plans for the site, as it was in the process of being Rezoning and obtaining Site Plan Approval to construct a condo.  Strangely enough, this is also work and hobby colliding.  As a Professional Urban Planner in a consulting company, this knowledge is something I am using every day in my day job, but it nicely collides with my hobby and my desire to collect information on Buildings I might model someday, such as the industrial buildings of Liberty Village, where conveniently, there are plenty of applications to collect material from.

When most planning applications are submitted you are required to post a notice sign to invite public comment (Site Plan Approval is slightly different, as it is not a public comment process, but Toronto still posts site plans to the AIC, so you can see the info, but the City isn’t obligated to engage the public as it’s a technical approval dealing with the development, as opposed to say a Zoning Amendment or Minor Variance where the application is to change the rules applicable to what you can build there).  For Official Plan or Zoning Amendments, a big sign (see below) has to be posted, for Minor Variance or Consent applications, a small 11″x17″ neon green or orange sign is required.  Different City’s have different signage requirements, but if you are driving around and see big signs, there might be plans that are public record available for you.

TorontoDevelopmentSign.jpgA Toronto Development Application Notice Sign. A Sign to modellers that there are plans and drawings out there waiting for you if you want to model the site.

I’m going to use the City of Toronto as an example, but I’ll include some links at the end to other City’s in Ontario’s similar sites.  In Toronto, the site is known as the “Application Information Centre”, and is accessed at  From the site, you can search by address, city planning district, or City Ward.  I personally find the City Ward is most useful to get down to an area and see whats going on.  The City has required electronic submission requirements for years, and staff have finally gotten good at making sure everything gets tagged and added to the application.  For a long time after the AIC launched, this wasn’t the case, and you can still find applications in the system that do not have drawings and reports attached to them unfortunately.

The City of Toronto “Application Information Centre”, an amazing tool for any modeller in Toronto, watch for properties being re-developed or where any application is proposed, and you’ll find plans!

Once you have located an application on a property you are interested in, click the pin, and it will open up a page with information on what is being proposed, what applications have been filed, and a list of supporting materials, i.e. everything the applicant has had to submit with the application.  This is the treasure for modellers.  There are two things you are most likely going to want, anything called a “Survey”, and anything listed as “Architectural Plans”.  Sometimes the survey drawings are included with the Architectural Plans as part of a set, sometimes not.

The screen that greets you when you open an application, and expanded to show the list of materials.

Survey plans are exactly what they sound like, a plan, prepared by a Land Surveyor that identifies the boundaries of the property, and the details of the existing structures, buildings, trees, railway tracks, whatever on the property.  These are a great tool for modellers as they show you exactly the size and shape of buildings.  The Architectural Plans can vary in their usefulness depending on what is going on.  If you want to model the building that’s been there for 50 years, but its being torn down, the plans probably only show the new building.  If it’s a change of use, addition, or even a new building, sometimes they then have plans that cover the existing building as well as the new.  personally, more often than not the survey is the most useful just to understand the size and layout of a site, any elevations or building drawings are a bonus.

BrunswickBalkeElevationsElevation drawings for the Brunswick-Balke-Collender building, included in the plans for a new office building adjacent on the site to allow City Heritage Staff to ensure the heritage building is protected (WZMH Architects Drawing).

In this case, one of the major buildings that I am planning on modelling is here in both survey to get the siting and dimensions, but in elevations for both the main building, and the powerhouse/chimney.  This is absolutely fantastic for me, and will make this an early project when layout construction begins.  I now have scale drawings that I can print in HO Scale to use to get the building shape and size right.

Because there is so much development happening in Liberty Village, I now have surveys for 5 or 6 blocks in the area, and at least partial plans for a couple of buildings.  Unfortunately, one of my key buildings, the Hinde and Dauch Paper Company that is now the Toy Factory Lofts when through the development process long before online posting.  If anyone at Quadrangle Architects or Lanterra Developments reads my blog and wants to share the topo survey of the building before construction, and the elevations for the original building, I’d love to hear from them!!

People often like to kick their government, and there are certainly plenty of things you can kick the City of Toronto for, but the Planning Department’s Application Information Centre and availability of public record documents certainly isn’t one of them.  As the requirements in the Planning Act that governs development in Ontario have evolved, more, not less Municipalities are going to wind up with sites like this making information available to modellers looking for it. Its a nice double whammy, makes my day job and my fun time more productive and easier!! Not often you can say that!

Other Major City Application Information Pages:

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