Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Design Review Panel?
Design Review Panels are advisory bodies integrated within the development approvals process to provide advice to City staff on matters such as preserving the uniqueness of place, maintaining vitality and ensuring comfort and safety. Design Review Panels are comprised of volunteer design professionals such as architects, landscape architects, urban designers and engineers, who provide professional, objective advice aimed at improving matters of design that affect the public realm. This includes the design of streets, parks, open spaces and buildings.
The City’s Design Review Panel provides advice on both private development and public projects, including advice on new urban design policy. The advice is based on publicly approved criteria such as zoning, secondary plans and urban design guidelines. Through this, the Design Review Panel can help raise standards of development, encourage designers to avoid compromising on quality and help ensure new developments are compatible with their surroundings. The expert advice provided by Panel members can improve the quality of even the most complex and refined projects, and as such, the Design Review Panel is a powerful addition to the development approval process.
Design Review Panel Background
In 2007 a pilot project was initiated to examine the feasibility of incorporating a Design Review Panel into the development approvals process in Toronto. The pilot period ran from 2007-2009, during which the Design Review Panel reviewed development proposals and public projects within selected Pilot Areas of the City. Upon completion, the project was evaluated both internally and through consultation with the design and development industry; it was seen as a positive addition to the development approvals process and no major objections were identified. Constructive comments and suggestions for improvement were used to further refine the process to ensure it responded to the interests of all stakeholders. The two-year term provided sufficient examination of the Design Review Panel, and City Council approved a permanent and expanded format at the end of the pilot period.
The resulting Design Review Panel is set up as an advisory body to City staff, and functions as an additional stream of consultation within the development review process. Advice from the Panel is focused on matters of design as it affects the public realm. The Design Review Panel does not significantly affect approval timelines: the role of the community, through public meetings, as well as the role of Council, through development approval, remains unchanged.
Design Review Panel Mandate
The Design Review Panel will assist Council in fulfilling Official Plan objectives by providing staff with professional design advice on public and private development. The Panel’s goal is to improve people’s quality of life by promoting design excellence within the public realm, including the pursuit of high quality architecture, landscape architecture, urban design and environmental sustainability.
Thresholds for Capital Works Projects
City Council (November 2009) adopted recommendations which require all Agencies and Divisions which conduct capital projects with significant public realm impacts to include early consultation with the Design Review Panel as part of undertaking those projects. Criteria for those capital projects are outlined under Public Projects.
Projects which contain minimal long-term visual impacts to the public realm, such as road resurfacing and construction in a location which is not visible or publicly accessible, are excluded from the process.
Thresholds for Private Development
The Design Review Panel will review new Site Plan and Rezoning applications which satisfy the related criteria outlined for Private Development.
Project Review Timing
In recognition of the fact that design issues are not necessarily resolved at the pre-application stage and that some often remain to be resolved once a formal application has been submitted, projects within the design review process will be reviewed twice as follows:
The first (schematic) review should be scheduled early enough during the initial functional design stage, or during policy development, to afford the possibilities of significant changes, if advised by the Panel.
The second (final) review is intended to occur after revisions have been made, and is intended to contribute to the process of detailed design finessing.
The Design Review Panel is comprised of 17 panel members who are appointed for a period of two years. Details about individual panel members can be found in the Panel Members section of the website. There are no City staff or elected officials on the Design Review Panel.
Criteria for Panel nomination includes a minimum of 15 years of relevant professional experience and membership in professional design associations in respective fields.
Conflict of Interest
Each member of the Design Review Panel has the duty to advise of any conflict of interest with respect to all projects being reviewed by the Panel. In this regard, the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act will apply and the panel member shall decline to participate in the review of that project.
- The filming of private development projects for which a Planning Act application has not yet been submitted (i.e. pre-application review) requires the prior written consent of the developer or an agent acting on their behalf. The filming of pre-application consultations without this consent will not be permitted.
- Persons interested in making an electronic record of Panel proceedings (audio and/or film) are requested to contact the Design Review Panel Coordinator 1 week prior to the meeting in order to confirm these details.
- Failure to contact the Design Review Panel coordinator in advance of the meeting may result in interested persons not being permitted to film Panel proceedings.
The Design Review Panel meets up to 15 times per year, excluding the month of August. Meetings are held during regular business hours, and the Panel undertakes up to four separate project reviews at each meeting.
Details of each meeting, including agenda and meeting location, are advertised on the internet in advance of each meeting and can be found in the Meeting Schedule section of the website. All meetings of the Panel are open to the public, however the Panel may at times need to meet in-camera to ensure legal confidentiality is maintained during the review of certain proposals.
Procedures for the Design Review Panel have been developed through a review of best practices and through consultation with various stakeholders including members of the public, the development industry, design professions, and City of Toronto divisions. Participation in meetings of the Design Review Panel is as follows:
The applicant is encouraged to participate in the Design Review process to present their project to the Panel and to hear the advice that is provided. Attendance will also allow the applicant to hear a presentation from City Planning staff, who will describe the project’s planning and physical context, and ask the Panel for advice on particular matters relating to it. The applicant’s design consultant is encouraged to participate in the review session by making a presentation, answering questions of clarification and listening to the Panel’s review. If the applicant does not wish to attend, city staff may still seek advice from the Panel relating to that application.
City Staff Participation
Planning staff liaise with applicants to ensure that applications are scheduled for review at the appropriate time; ideally, the first review occurs early in the process during pre-consultation, with the second review taking place after refinements to the application have been made.
Community Planning and Urban Design staff attend the Panel meetings, where they present the planning and physical context, and ask the Panel for advice on particular matters relating to it. Staff then evaluate the advice of the DRP in the context of other planning issues and considerations, and work with the applicant as the project evolves further.
While meetings of the Design Review Panel are held in public, there is no opportunity for members of the public to ask questions or to make a deputation during these meetings. The public nature of the meetings is intended to ensure a transparent process, while also contributing to public education about design of the public realm. Citizen input on development applications is provided through public consultation meetings, charettes, and working groups which are typically arranged by Community Planning staff and/or the local Councillor.
Record of Meetings
Design Review Panel Minutes are the official record of all Panel meetings. Minutes are comprised of two sections. The first section, prepared by the Panel Chair, is a summary of the Panel’s key points of consensus. The second section, prepared by City Planning staff, is a summary of the full discussion. Minutes are not intended to be a verbatim representation of the discussion of proceedings and as such, electronic devices are not used to record the meeting discussion.
Minutes are confirmed at the following Design Review Panel meeting. Minutes can be confirmed at any time during the meeting, at the discretion of the Chair, provided there are sufficient members to form quorum. In voting to adopt the minutes, the Panel is providing an indication that the document is representative of the discussion which took place at the meeting.
Proponents do not have the opportunity to request any changes to the minutes.
Once minutes have been confirmed, they are considered a public document and can be distributed to interested parties. Details of recent meetings are posted to the Meeting Schedule section of the website.
Open and Closed Meetings
The City takes a number of steps to ensure the highest degree of openness and transparency for meetings of the Design Review Panel:
- All Panel meeting dates are posted on the City’s website.
- Agendas are posted to the web prior to each Panel meeting.
- Minutes are posted to the web as soon as possible after they have been endorsed by the Panel.
- Meetings of the Design Review Panel are normally held in public.
Sometimes it may be necessary to close a meeting to the public so the Panel can consider confidential information. For example, a Panel meeting may be closed to consider information that falls into one of the following exceptions:
- Issues affecting security of the City’s property.
- Review of plans and drawings which will form part of a competitive tender.
- Litigation or potential litigation, including matters before administrative tribunals.
- The meeting is held for the purpose of educating or training the members and no business is advanced.
Before holding a closed session
- Before holding a closed session, the Design Review Panel will state by resolution that it is going to close the meeting and the general nature of the matter to be discussed.
During a closed session
- Minutes of the closed session will be taken.
After a closed session
- Panel Members will maintain confidentiality about the confidential information until the public release of information is authorized.
- Staff and the Panel Chair will prepare confidential minutes of the closed session. Minutes will be stored in a secure location until the public release of information is authorized.
Other Design Review Panels
In addition to the City Panel, there are Panels for the following specific areas within Toronto:
- Waterfront Toronto: reviews projects within the Central Waterfront Secondary Planning Area.
- Toronto Community Housing Corporation: reviews large-scale TCHC redevelopment initiatives.
- University of Toronto: reviews proposed development within the Downtown Campus and the Scarborough Campus.
In the majority of cases, any given project will only be reviewed by one Panel (i.e. there is no overlapping jurisdiction). Depending on the nature of the project, there may be occasion where two Panels work together to conduct a joint review of that project.