Why You Should Do A Zoning Check for Your Pharmacy

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So you’re opening a new pharmacy in Ontario. You’ve found a great location, in a residential area with reliable foot traffic. The rent is reasonable and the property offers enough space to include all the features you want in your new store. There is just one problem… Your pharmacy has the wrong zoning code.

Zoning by-laws designate the legal use of land in Canadian communities. They determine whether the land can be used for residential, commercial, medical or other purposes. In addition, they will state where a building can be located, how tall it can be built, how far away it should be from the street curb, its parking requirements, and so on.

How Zoning Laws Can Affect You

Due to the stringent requirements for pharmacies, zoning laws can have a major effect. If your property has the wrong zoning, this will totally change the investment required for opening or renovating it. Zoning changes can be incredibly costly and time-consuming (see below for more details), so you will need to completely re-budget this project when zoning changes are involved.

If you want to avoid a zoning change, you may need to reconsider the features that you are including in your pharmacy design. Doctor’s office and medical clinics will require medical zoning. In cases where medical zoning is not available, we often recommend pharmacy owners stick to features permitted under retail zoning.

What You Can Do

If you are still determined to make zoning changes, you can apply for a zoning variance or zoning amendment through the local municipal body. Be warned that this process will typically take over 6 months — and can take longer than a year in some cases.

Zoning Variance

A zoning variance, commonly called a ‘Minor Variance application’, is a zoning change that includes small issues, such as building setback or parking requirements. Even a zoning variance will require a formal application and review process.

Municipalities strongly recommend that you contact their planning staff to discuss your application, prior to submission, as this step will often save applicants both time and money. Even so, a zoning variance can take over 6 months to be approved. You can find more information on Minor Variance applications on local municipal websites — see the City of Toronto for an example.

Zoning Amendment

A zoning amendment, commonly called a ‘rezoning’, is required when the intended use of your property falls well outside the zoning allowances. Zoning amendments include any major changes to building height, building location, or your land use designation — among other changes.  

As with zoning variances, municipalities recommend that you consult with their staff for advice on your application. This application must pass by the local council before it can be approved. You can find more information on the Ontario government website.

Zoning amendments are lengthy processes, typically taking close to 1 year and often requiring the formal consent of local neighbourhood groups. It can also be very costly — we have seen cases where it cost pharmacy owners close to six figures to pass a zoning amendment.

If you need a zoning change for your pharmacy, contact the team at O’Connell Store Fixtures today. We have been through the process many times, and we can help you navigate it.

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