Updating the City of Waterloo Official Plan

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About the project

The City of Waterloo’s Official Plan is an important document that guides land use decision-making for the city. It represents council's vision for growth and change within the city, guided by the public interest.

The Official Plan was approved in 2012, but under provincial requirements, the plan must be reviewed every 10 years. A review of the city’s Official Plan will ensure the plan meets updated provincial planning requirements and is an opportunity to address local issues, needs and ensure the plan is consistent with any other policy documents that may have changed since the initial approval of the plan.

Getting involved

This page will be updated regularly with project update and key dates. Feel free to ask questions using the Questions section. Sign up to get regular updates using the Follow Project feature, or provide comments and share your ideas using the Comments section on this this page.

About the project

The City of Waterloo’s Official Plan is an important document that guides land use decision-making for the city. It represents council's vision for growth and change within the city, guided by the public interest.

The Official Plan was approved in 2012, but under provincial requirements, the plan must be reviewed every 10 years. A review of the city’s Official Plan will ensure the plan meets updated provincial planning requirements and is an opportunity to address local issues, needs and ensure the plan is consistent with any other policy documents that may have changed since the initial approval of the plan.

Getting involved

This page will be updated regularly with project update and key dates. Feel free to ask questions using the Questions section. Sign up to get regular updates using the Follow Project feature, or provide comments and share your ideas using the Comments section on this this page.

  • Understanding planning in Waterloo

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    From November 9-December 1, the City of Waterloo will host the 3rd annual Neighbourhood Summit through a series of virtual sessions. The summit will bring together neighbours from across the city to build capacity, share information and network.

    On November 25th from 7:00-8:30 p.m., the Official Plan Review team will host an “Understanding Planning in Waterloo” workshop. This workshop will share high-level information about urban planning in Waterloo and provide details on how neighbours can get involved/stay informed.

    Register to attend

  • Beechwood Park Cultural Heritage Landscape Review

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    We are looking for your input on whether the Beechwood Park neighbourhood should be included on the City of Waterloo's inventory of significant cultural heritage landscapes. We want to determine whether further study and review of this neighbourhood should be done as part of the City’s Official Plan review and update. Cultural heritage landscapes are heritage areas that have been identified by the community as important. Designation as a cultural heritage landscape serves as a starting point for future planning initiatives and actions (subject to community consultation and council approval) to ensure that significant heritage features are celebrated, enhanced and conserved as the city grows and develops. Visit the Beechwood Park project page to review the information on cultural heritage landscapes and then let us know what you think.

  • Public Open House - June 17 2021

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    At the Official Plan Review Open House (held June 17, 2021) staff shared information on what the Official Plan is, why it is being reviewed, the study process, and how interested people can help identify priorities for the review.



  • Official Plan Issue Briefs

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    The City of Waterloo Official Plan is a large, complicated document. To help focus on specific areas during the review, the project team has identified eight issues that are important considerations in the review process. We've summarized each of these issues on its own project page, including an overview of the issue, and a list of the existing conditions, strategic directions, and policy considerations for that issue. Further details on those conditions and considerations are available in the issue brief PDF documents, linked from the specific project pages and available in our Document library. Important Waterloo facts and trends which we also need to consider as we review the Official Plan are included in our Key Facts and Trends Infographic or our Key Facts and Trends Report.

    Official Plan Review Issue Briefs

    • City Growth, Structure and Form A particular hierarchy and urban structure are the main building blocks of the city.
    • Economic Development and Innovation Promoting economic development by planning for the conditions to make the city an attractive place in which to live and invest.
    • Environment and Climate Change Forward thinking environment and climate change policies are required for the continued adaptation and transformational change needed to address this issue.
    • Housing Affordability and Equity Addressing the need for a diversity of housing types, tenures (financial arrangements for living, such as tenant or owner-occupied) and costs throughout the city.
    • Neighbourhoods, Communities and Culture Arts, culture and heritage play a critical role in the vibrancy and vitality of Waterloo, and cultural activities and sites contribute to the well-being of society and individuals.
    • Planning Processes and Public Consultation Our engagement policies and methods need to meet the requirements and accessibility needs of the legislation and our community.
    • Transportation and Mobility Proper infrastructure accommodating various transportation modes and amenities is one of the best ways to allow better connections between people and the places they need to go.
    • Vision and Strategic Plan Principles, goals and objectives established by the community, which describe and coordinate how land in the city should be used and developed.


    If you have Questions or Comments while reviewing these materials, our project team would love to hear from you.


    Information in this infographic is also available in the Key Facts and Trends Report, in the Document Library.


  • City Growth Structure and Form

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    Waterloo is a growing city with a young and well-educated population. The city’s high quality of life makes it an attractive place for people to live, work and learn. Our growth needs to be managed to ensure that Waterloo continues to be an attractive, functional and inclusive community, and that our community infrastructure is used efficiently. Management of growth and the opportunities it presents is a key function of the Official Plan.

    Waterloo’s Official Plan outlines a particular hierarchy and urban structure, which are the main building blocks of the city. These structural components include:

    • Uptown Waterloo (also known as the Urban Growth Centre): the urban centre of the city, identified by the province as the focus area for growth as well as the civic and cultural centre of the city.
    • Major and Minor Nodes: generally located at intersection of major roads, these are mixed-use areas that allow for higher density development and may include commercial uses including grocery stores.
    • Major and Minor Corridors: these areas are generally located along major roads and transit routes in the city and connect nodes. Corridors also allow for higher density and mixed use development.

    More recently, the city added land use policies for Major Transit Station Areas (MTSAs) for the areas around the ION LRT stops. The detailed land use policies for these areas identify where and what type of development is permitted, and include important land use considerations such urban design, compatible uses, and heights and densities.

    More detail is available in the City Growth Structure and Form issue brief, including:

    Existing Conditions/Initiatives


    Strategic Directions

    • Continue to plan for projected residential and employment growth
    • Review and refine land use policies for remaining greenfield areas
    • Refine city structure to align with city, regional and provincial requirements


    Policy Considerations

    • Planning for growth in strategic growth areas
    • Consider the policies and land use designations to enable services and facilities needed to support growth
    • Refine employment area framework to reflect boundary and policy changes
    • Refine commercial land use framework to ensure an appropriate mix and location of commercial land uses
    • Refine residential, commercial and employment land use designation policies reflect changing demographics and market trends
    • Strengthen urban design policies into the Official Plan in accordance with the Urban Design Manual


  • Economic Development and Innovation

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    Waterloo is a growing city. Our strong and diverse economy and local facilities and services provide residents with a high quality of life, making Waterloo an attractive place for people to live, work, play and learn. Waterloo has a young and growing population with a knowledge-based economy. The overall goal of economic development is to improve the economic well being, quality of life and vitality of the community.

    Economic development is intended to build on the strengths of the community through various programs, polices and strategies to ensure a healthy and vibrant economy with opportunities for growth and sustainability. In addition to the initiatives of the City of Waterloo Economic Development Strategy and Action Plan 2019-2024, the city’s Official Plan plays a role in promoting economic development by planning for the conditions to make the city an attractive place in which to live and invest.

    More detail is available in the Economic Development and Innovation issue brief, including:

    Existing Conditions/Initiatives

    • Economic development initiatives (such as the small business centre, community improvement plan, business directory, and arts and cultural development
    • Employment areas
    • Planning for a strong and sustainable economy
    • Waterloo as a creative and sustainable city
    • Knowledge and technology
    • Strong and vibrant uptown


    Strategic Directions and Policy Considerations

    • Support a diverse range of employment and commercial opportunities
    • Enhance support for arts heritage and culture, by strengthening public realm policies and accommodating a wide range arts and cultural land uses
    • Strengthen ties to academic and start-up communities


  • Environment and Climate Change

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    The natural environment and climate change resilience play a critical role in the health and wellbeing of our community. Natural areas like woodlands, wetlands, and creek corridors contribute to environmental health by replenishing groundwater, regulating flood waters, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and offering critical habitat for wildlife. These areas also provide cultural and economic opportunities for recreation, nature appreciation, tourism, research, and education.

    The Official Plan review provides an opportunity for the city to strengthen and update our environment and climate change policies to reflect Provincial and Regional policy changes, new local master plans, advances in climate research and modelling, and best practices. Forward thinking policies are required for the continued adaptation and transformational change needed to address this issue.

    More detail is available in the Environment and Climate Change issue brief, including:

    Existing Conditions/Initiatives

    • Our region is projected to become "warmer, wetter and wilder"
    • Achieving an 80% reduction in our emissions by 2050 will require transformational change
    • Waterloo is preparing for a changing climate
    • Waterloo’s natural heritage system supports local biodiversity and can help us reduce our vulnerability to climate change


    Strategic Directions

    • Integrate mitigation and adaptation considerations into all long term policy and development and infrastructure planning
    • Support low impact, energy efficient, and climate resilient development
    • Facilitate adoption of appropriate community energy systems
    • Plan for compact, mixed use, and walkable communities
    • Support public transit, active transportation, and zero-emission vehicle infrastructure
    • Identify and protect significant natural areas and their ecological functions


    Policy Considerations

    • Align with Provincial and Regional policy directions
    • Align policies with city master plans and strategies
    • Review policies pertaining to the built environment
    • Implement goals and actions of the corporate and community-focused climate change plans and the Community Energy Investment Strategy.
    • Update the natural heritage system mapping with the best available data sources
    • Identify additional actions that are needed to achieve broader natural heritage objectives
    • Review and clarify floodplain policies
    • Review holding provision policies that guide implementation of floodplain policies
    • Review and update source water protection policies and mapping


  • Housing Affordability and Equity

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    One of the ways in which the City of Waterloo is planning for population growth (we are expected to reach 160,183 permanent residents and students by 2041) is by increasing our housing density in certain designated areas. While planning for more living units in a smaller space, we also need to consider people of all levels of income, abilities, and at different life stages. In planning for complete communities, we help ensure a variety of housing types and tenures (financial arrangements for living, such as tenant or owner-occupied) at different price points, all close to transit, employment and amenities.

    The Official Plan review will evaluate existing policies and explore new policies for the development of complete communities and ensure the provision of a diversity of housing types, tenures and costs throughout the city.

    More detail is available in the Housing Affordability and Equity issue brief, including:

    Existing Conditions/Initiatives

    • Intensification in strategic growth areas is an opportunity to create more complete communities
    • Increasing housing density
    • Housing affordability is declining
    • Housing is needed for all life stages
    • New provincial and regional policies


    Strategic Directions

    • Planning for a sufficient supply of all housing types
    • Planning for a sufficient supply of affordable housing
    • Supporting existing and emerging complete communities


    Policy Considerations

    • Review residential land use policies
    • Clarify and simplify urban design policies
    • Review and confirm appropriate measurement of residential density
    • Define and support the development of a full range of housing forms on the housing continuum
    • Strengthen the planning and regulatory incentives to encourage the creation of new affordable housing
    • Strengthen policy framework to limit demolition and conversion of affordable housing
    • Support existing and emerging complete communities


  • Neighbourhoods, Communities and Culture

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    Arts, culture and heritage play a critical role in the vibrancy and vitality of Waterloo. Cultural activities and sites contribute to the well-being of society and individuals: they bring communities together, improve our health and happiness, and contribute to a diverse and tolerant society. Culture also contributes to Waterloo’s economic growth and development by attracting people and businesses to the city and encouraging those already here to stay. Creative industries also contribute to a Waterloo’s overall economic prosperity.

    A network of streets, public trails and parkettes connect and support our community spaces and often serve as social and cultural spaces as well. As the city continues to grow and intensify, these private and public spaces will also need to grow and adapt to accommodate more people and a wider variety of uses.

    More detail is available in the Neighbourhoods, Communities and Culture issue brief, including:

    Existing Conditions/Initiatives

    • Supporting Waterloo’s intensifying areas
    • Neighbourhood Community Hubs
    • Waterloo’s arts, culture and heritage sectors


    Strategic Directions

    • Plan for a sufficient number and equitable distribution of high quality public spaces and facilities to support all city neighbourhoods
    • Plan for a well-designed and interconnected privately-owned public space network
    • Enable existing, expanding and new creative industries and cultural activities
    • Support a convenient, safe and accessible multi-modal transportation network that links residents to cultural spaces and community facilities
    • Ensure policies reflect relevant changes to Provincial policy and legislation


    Policy Considerations

    • Strengthen policies related to the public realm, including urban design and distribution of parks and open space
    • Ensure full range of arts and culture land uses are accommodated where possible in land use policies
    • Celebrate and elevate the role City of Waterloo Museum and collections
    • Update, clarify and strengthen heritage and archaeological resource conservation policies


  • Planning Processes and Public Consultation

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    The process cities follow to make policy and planning decisions has a big impact on public trust. Decisions made at the municipal level often have a direct impact on daily life, and there is a growing interest, expectation and ability to participate in local decision making processes. We recognize that engaging with the public gives us a greater range of perspectives on an issue, which can lead to better decisions and improve our community’s understanding of why those decisions were made. Open and transparent processes can show that community input and feedback, as well as available data and technical expertise, are all taken into account.

    The Official Plan review is an opportunity to review our engagement policies and methods make sure they meet the requirements and accessibility needs of the legislation and our community. The city can also consider how to increase the opportunities for meaningful engagement, and help overcome some of the barriers that prevent people from participating.

    More detail is available in the Planning Processes and Public Consultation issue brief, including:

    Existing Conditions/Initiatives

    • Public engagement is a cornerstone of local planning and decision making
    • Engagement with key people, including those from underrepresented groups, can lead to more equitable and inclusive decision making
    • There is an opportunity to expand on and update the way the city engages with the public
    • Implementation beyond engagement


    Strategic Directions

    • Encourage participation in land use planning processes by all sectors of the population, including people of different ethnic backgrounds, languages, cultures, ages and abilities
    • Enhance awareness and understanding of planning issues and decisions
    • Continue to provide sufficient opportunity for involvement by those affected by planning decisions
    • Ensure implementation tools and processes are updated


    Policy Considerations

    • Clarify and simplify policies
    • Update engagement approaches
    • Identify where possible, the means, method and timing of public meetings, notices and other forms of engagement in advance of planning decisions
    • Consider a searchable and centralized location for planning applications
    • Modify policy to provide for alternative notice requirements
    • Review appropriateness of existing amendment formats
    • Clarify and update the types of studies that could be requested
    • Update municipal incentive policies related to Height and Density Bonusing.
    • Review Development Charges and Parkland Dedication policies
    • Integrate efficiencies/changes to planning process


Page last updated: 17 November 2021, 10:08