Guidelines for Urban Design Reports

To demonstrate conformity with urban design policies and guidelines, Urban Design reports may be requested at the Formal Consultation stage for planning applications. Applicants and professionals completing these reports should use the terms of reference templates for completing Urban Design Reports.  

The use of an Urban Design Brief by the City is typically applied to individual sites developed for a singular building form or type with required accessory or related uses and site features such as parking, landscaping and loading / storage spaces or facilities.

An Urban Design Brief should provide the urban design rationale for the urban design components of a development, including:

  • location and design of buildings
  • compatibility and fit within the context
  • vehicular and pedestrian circulation systems
  • parking
  • site buffering and landscaping
  • streetscaping
  • servicing areas
  • other related components that may be specific to a development.

It cannot simply be a reflection of, or argument for a preferred development scheme. Additionally, it is not intended to replace a Planning Justification Report, but instead should explain why the proposed development represents the optimum design solution.

Criteria to Address

When preparing an Urban Design Brief it is expected to address a number of matters and as a minimum, it should address the following criteria:

1. Background or existing conditions

1.1 Description of existing on-site attributes and considerations (context maps, air photos, site photo or plans assist in clarifying these details):

1.1.1 Existing topography and vegetation

  • Description of existing on-site topography and vegetation, including its significance
  • Description of any other relevant existing topographic or vegetative features

1.1.2 Existing building(s) and/or structure(s)

  • Outline location of all existing buildings and structures on site
  • Description of existing buildings or structures in relation to other existing buildings or structures on site
  • Description of architectural style, design, massing, size, or exterior materials of existing buildings and structures on site
  • Description of other relevant existing structures and/or considerations such as walls or fences
  • Description of significance of existing buildings, structures or features

1.2 Description and analysis of site context (Description of context within community, neighbourhood, streetscape and site):

1.2.1 Community context

  • Identify the site’s location and role within the community such as downtown, business park, gateway location or major intersection

1.2.2 Neighbourhood context

  • Discuss the property’s function within the neighbourhood such as gateway into a residential neighbourhood, major intersection of a commercial activity node, internal to a prestigious industrial business park.

1.2.3 Streetscape context

  • Describe the type of street such as local, collector or arterial; main use(s) on the street; building heights; building setbacks; building styles such as character, building materials, rooflines; location of parking such as behind or beside buildings, front yard or underground; location and type of landscaping such as landscape strip along street or mature street trees.

1.2.4 Site context

  • Describe any other important feature that influences the streetscape such as signage, topography of street, shape of street or heritage buildings.
  • Describe any other important feature that influences the site’s context. 

1.3 Description of applicable design requirements (Highlight key urban design policies and guidelines).

1.3.1 Highlight and properly cite key policies and guidelines from:

  • Applicable Official Plan plus the Urban Hamilton Official Plan
  • Applicable Secondary Plan
  • Council Approved Site Plan Guidelines
  • Streetscape Master Plan (if applicable)
  • Community Urban Design Guidelines (if applicable)
  • Council Approved Transit Oriented Development Guidelines for Hamilton (if applicable)
  • Council Approved City-Wide Corridor Planning Principles and Design Guidelines (if applicable)
  • Any other applicable policy or guideline

1.3.2 Generally urban design policies and guidelines relate to site, building, and landscape requirements.

  • Site: Outline requirements related to streetscape design, context, compatibility and site planning
  • Building: Outline requirements related to building design, form, massing, façade treatments and function
  • Landscape: Outline requirements related to landscaping such as amenity spaces, buffering and streetscaping
2. Site Design

2.1 Introduce proposal and outline functional requirements and constraints related to the proposal Provide a detailed description of the proposal including its functional requirements. Plans and Architectural Elevations illustrating the proposal must be provided.

2.1.1 Site design

  • Description of site design and specific site design components such as: building location(s), building entrance(s), vehicular and pedestrian circulation, waste management collection, loading, storage and utility areas, proposed grading, stormwater management items, noise attenuation, lighting, signage, etc.

2.1.2 Building design

  • Description of proposed built form (design, proportions, heights, roofline, massing, façade treatments, materials, etc.)

2.1.3 Landscape design

  • Description of functional landscape requirements

2.1.4 Constraints

  • Provide a brief discussion regarding the design constraints such as lot size, grading, natural and heritage impacts

2.2 Analysis of proposal and recommendations (Provides a professional analysis of the proposal):

2.2.1 Describe how the proposal is guided and informed by the applicable design requirements. Refer to summaries and findings in Section 3.0

2.2.2 Analyze how the proposal fits into the existing context.  Include a description of the proposed building setbacks, heights, and key interfaces

2.2.3 Analyze how the proposed building is designed to be sensitive to the existing and planned neighbourhood

2.2.4 Analyze how the proposed landscape design enhances the aesthetics and function of both the site and neighbourhood

2.2.5 Describe any other considerations, such as (but not limited to):  public realm upgrades, accessibility, safety, heritage resources and natural heritage

2.2.6 Provide professional recommendations that will ensure the general intent of the applicable urban design policies and guidelines are achieved 

  • If applicable, provide draft zone provisions and conditions of approval
3. Contributions

Design Briefs should typically demonstrate how development proposals are scaled and designed with respect to adjacent built forms and spaces within the neighbourhood context. The Brief should also illustrate the derivation of building setbacks and heights, the choice of exterior materials for new construction and the appropriateness of proposed hard and soft landscape elements.

When preparing an Urban Design Analysis and/or Guidelines it is recommended to follow this guidance on the content of urban design studies or reports. It helps  to provide a consistent, uniform format to the documentation and management of design issues on large lots or properties where it is intended to build a variety of new buildings and structures often supported by a network of new streets and public spaces.  

Any required urban design documentation, i.e., a study or report, submitted in support of a planning application is required to be divided into three components:

Part A: Description and analysis

1. Description and analysis of the existing site
  • A description and analysis of existing on-site attributes and considerations, including existing buildings, structures, topography and vegetation;
  • A description and analysis of site context within the streetscape, neighbourhood and community as applicable;
  • Functional requirements for the proposed uses;
  • A description of applicable design requirements whether derived from provincial statutes and policies, municipal official plan policies and relevant site plan guidelines; and
  • Conclusions respecting the property’s design constraints and opportunities.

Part B: Design response and intent

In addition to presenting a clearly structured description of design objectives to be achieved, Part B may form all or part of the design guidance to enable the approval of subsequent plans and drawings for specified buildings, structures and spaces prior to approval of building permits by a Control Architect.  (Refer to Part C: Implementation).

1. Site context and structuring elements
  • Official Plan and Secondary Plan policies
  • Character areas and priority treatments
  • Major roads, local collectors,
  • Primary gateways, secondary gateways
  • Open space, parks and special areas
  • Site circulation
  • Landmarks
2. Streetscapes design guidelines
  • Major Streets (Landscaping, buffering, pedestrian access and transit)
  • Collector Streets
  • Local Streets
3. Residential architectural design guidelines

3.1 Design Guidelines for Community Streetscapes

  • Community identity areas
  • Community safety
  • Street and building relationships
  • Façade variety within the streetscape
  • Dwelling types
  • Dwelling massing
  • Driveways
  • Streetscape elements
  • Fencing
  • Municipal address signage
  • Lighting fixtures

3.2 Residential Architectural Design Criteria

  • Architectural styles and influences
  • Architectural detailing
  • Main entrances
  • Porches and/or porticos
  • Wall cladding
  • Exterior materials and colours
  • Windows
  • Roofs
  • Foundation walls
  • Adverse grading conditions
  • Utility and service elements

3.3 Design Guidelines for Garages

  • Attached garages
  • Detached garages
  • Criteria for side facing garages
  • Criteria for dropped garage conditions

3.4 Design Guidelines for Priority Lot Dwellings

  • Dwelling along or in a particular community identity area
  • Corner dwellings
  • Community gateway dwellings
  • Community window dwellings
  • Dwellings facing parks
  • Upgraded rear and side yard architecture
  • View termini and elbows

A priority lot plan should be included showing locations and treatments of priority lots or blocks.

3.5 Additional design matters

3.5.1 Townhouses and live-work units:

  • Site design: Discuss principles for site design and locations entrances, building placement, connections, pedestrian and vehicular circulation, building entrances, visibility or exposure, screening, landscape areas
  • Townhouse built-form: discuss overall principles for built- form in relation to site layout including breakdown of types (Standard townhouse, stacked townhouse and live-work with specific guidelines)
  • Building massing: Treatment of corners, end units, roof variation, projections
  • Façade treatment: Elevation variety on the street, exterior colour selections, treatment of entrances, fenestration, treatment of walls, and blank walls, garages
  • Private lanes
  • Landscaping

3.5.2 Apartment buildings:

  • Site design: discuss principles for site design and locations entrances, building placement, connections, pedestrian and vehicular circulation, drop-offs, building entrances, visibility or exposure, screening, landscape areas
  • Built-form and massing:  discuss principles for built-form and massing in relation to site layout
  • Façade treatment: discuss treatment of entrances, fenestration, treatment of walls, and blank walls
  • Drop off and pickup areas
  • Parking areas, parking linkages, treatments, and screening
  • Loading and service areas
  • Landscaping, screening and privacy at grade

4. Commercial architectural design guidelines
  • Site design: discuss principles for site design and locations entrances, building placement, connections, pedestrian and vehicular circulation, building entrances, visibility or exposure, screening, landscape areas
  • Built-form and massing: discuss principles for built-form and massing in relation to site layout
  • Façade Treatment: discuss treatment of entrances, fenestration, treatment of walls, and blank walls
  • Parking
  • Loading and service areas
  • Signage and lighting
  • Demonstration plans
5. Institutional architectural design guidelines
  • Site Design: discuss principles for site design and locations entrances, building placement, connections, pedestrian and vehicular circulation, building entrances, visibility or exposure, screening, landscape areas
  • Built-form and massing: discuss principles for built-form and massing in relation to site layout
  • Façade treatment: discuss treatment of entrances, fenestration, treatment of walls, and blank walls
  • Parking: bus drop-off and pick up
  • Loading and service areas
  • Signage and lighting
  • Demonstration plans
6. Landscape design guidelines
  • Community identity areas
  • Parks, vista blocks, storm water management ponds, ecologically sensitive areas
  • Edges and gateways (major and minor)
  • Special areas
  • Fencing
  • Private street treatments: landscaping, paving and parking
  • Parking perimeter and parking islands
  • Commercial and institutional landscape treatments: planting, buffering and site furniture

Part C : Implementation

1. Design review process

Part C is intended to describe those measures to be adopted for the successful implementation of urban design initiatives proposed as part of the design vision and guidelines in Part B. This section should include recommendations respecting:

  • Other required approvals under the Planning Act
  • Description of design review process(es)
  • Drawing submissions requirements by subsequent builders for design approval
  • Responsibilities of the applicant and/or agent
  • Requirements for landscape plans and planting details
  • Revisions to approved drawings
  • Dispute resolution
  • Design review contacts
2. Architectural control

Typically as part of built form implementation a system of design management is often adopted that formally assigns approval of subsequent design matters to named independent architects or architectural consultants, either as a “design architect” or “control; architect”. The work produced in Part B of the advice provided may be adopted as those guidelines prepared by the “design architect”.  In some cases the design architect and the control architect may be the same firm or individual. 

This section should include and re-iterate, if necessary, the provisions of any pre-existing agreements or planning approvals respecting the retention of a design architect and control architect.

2.1 Design architect

The role of the design architect is to include sufficient design guidance (see PART B provisions) to enable the approval of plans and drawings for specified buildings, structures and spaces prior to approval of building permits.

Usually undertaken at the owner or applicants expense the architectural and urban design guidelines should include a clearly articulated statement of design intent both generally for the larger neighbourhood or area as well as specific matters relating to detailed building design.

Aside from the expectations previously described in Part B, typical examples of design guidance included are:

  • A design vision and statement of principles, goals and objectives for the subject lands and new development.
  • Description of the Community Structure and integration with the surrounding context.
  • Methods and approaches to creating distinct neighbourhoods.
  • Providing design criteria for community streetscapes that demonstrate dwelling types and massing, ensuring variation of façades within the streetscapes as a result of variation of materials, porch designs, and garage locations and driveways.
  • The inclusion of specific architectural design criteria that will contribute to community character and ensure variation of designs of dwelling facades as well as include architectural detailing, design of main entrances, porches, exterior wall articulation, roofs, adverse grading conditions, and locations for utilities and service elements.
  • Providing direction if garages are anticipated to play a dominate role within the streetscape, including sections on front and rear garages, and design criteria for both including dropped garage conditions.
  • Providing a priority lot map showing dwellings with upgrades sides and rears, view terminus dwellings, dwelling fronting parks, adjacent to gateways, and dwellings facing arterial where driveway connection will not be permitted.
  • Describing community landscape design guidelines that include pathways and pedestrian circulation, gateway locations and design, other community identity areas or features.

2.2 Control architect

Where a “control architect” has been specified, either as a firm or individual, to be retained to the satisfaction of the City a clear description of the function of this role should be provided including related experience and qualifications. The control architect is a licensed member of the Ontario Association of Architects with such responsibilities as:

  • Ensuring, amongst other matters, the appropriate development of each lot with respect to siting, built form, materials, colours and landscaping in compliance with the approved Architectural and Urban Design Guidelines;
  • Providing dispute resolution relating to design and compliance with the guidelines by builders.  If matters cannot be resolved, a letter to the Planning Department of the City from the Control architect shall be issued informing the City of the dispute.  The Planning Department of the City will work to provide a resolution and provide guidance and opinion on a dispute; and
  • Certifying, through stamping and signing, all drawings for the development of each lot and or block subject to the architectural guidelines prior to the issuance of any building permit(s).
3. Periodic review

The implementation section should also describe the method of review of assessing the effectiveness of the control architect.  Typically the City of Hamilton may undertake periodic reviews of certified drawings to ensure compliance with the Architectural and Urban Design Guidelines (Part B). Where inadequate compliance is evident the City of Hamilton may cease to accept certified drawings by the Control Architect and the owner shall retain another Control Architect satisfactory to Manager of Community Planning and Design.

4. Advisory notes

The Implementation section should also contain any notes to the reader advising how the guidance provided is to be used and in what circumstances, ex., “This document contains images and sketches which are intended to indicate the vision of this plan and are for illustrative purposes only.  They are not intended for construction and therefore may not reflect the final product constructed.”

5. Coordination

Development of the Urban Design Guidelines shall be coordinated with other City Staff and relevant agencies to ensure accord with City wide policies and practices.