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History of the City Planning Department

The Early Years

Sarnia’s civic interest and participation in provincial town planning initiatives date back to at least 1912. Formalized town planning in Sarnia was originally proposed in the early 1930s by Dr. R.K. Stratford, founder of the Research Department at Imperial Oil. In 1940, Mayor John T. Barnes was authorized by City Council to create a City Planning Commission to make plans for a long-term program of city improvements.

1941 - Elements of a City Plan

In 1941, a master plan Elements of a City Plan outlined a long-term vision for the City. The Plan was prepared by Norman B. Wilson, designer of the original Toronto subway and opponent of the Gardiner Expressway. Its recommendations included expanding the City municipal boundary to Indian Road, the development of a green preserve along the City’s future boundary, the waterfront park system, the protection of stable neighbourhoods, and warned against the health and aesthetic consequences of creating a built environment to serve the automobile.

1950 - Fringe Growth and Rural Health

In 1950, O.K. Milliken, Reeve of Sarnia Township, presented to the Association of Assessing Officers of Ontario on the ills of fringe growth for the Township and its impact on rural health. He promoted orderly, serviced development and the preservation of good farmland. To accommodate rapid growth, the City of Sarnia annexed areas north and west of the existing urban area in 1951. This extended the boundary from East Street to Murphy Road and from Exmouth Street to Lake Huron. One year later, the Township passed a restrictive zoning by-law which sought to limit severances and control fringe development outside of the new urban boundary.

1953 - Establishment of the Planning Department

In 1953, the City established the Planning Department and hired John Legate from the Town of Westmount, Quebec as the City’s first Planning Director. The department has provided professional land use advice to City Council ever since.

1954 - Planning Advisory Board

In 1954, the City Planning Commission voted its dissolution. It recommended to Council that it should be reconstituted as a 9 member advisory board to the newly formed professional Planning Department. The Commission recommended that appointees should not represent any group, such as the Real Estate Board, but should be unaffiliated and speak for the city as a whole.

1955 - First Zoning By-law

In 1955, the City of Sarnia implemented its first zoning by-law. The Sarnia and Suburban Planning Board was formed and served to hear planning applications and provide recommendations to Council. During this period, the Planning Department coordinated the successful relocation of the Bluewater neighbourhood, and opposed commercial expansion.

1957 - First Inter-jurisdictional meeting to discuss regional concerns

In 1957, the first inter-jurisdictional meeting was held to consider regional planning concerns. The City of Sarnia, Village of Point Edward and Townships of Sarnia and Moore were in attendance. Two years later, the St. Clair District Planning Board was formed to provide a regional forum for planning issues.

1962 - New Official Plan

In 1962, after three years of research and study, the City of Sarnia adopted a new Official Plan. The Plan was finally approved by the Province of Ontario in 1965. A focus on efficient development, urban regeneration and a detailed traffic plan were key elements of the Plan.

1970 - Retirement of John Legate

In 1970, John Legate retired as Planning Director after 17 years, and was succeeded by Ray Jenkins.

During this period, urban growth had reached the Indian Road boundary and insufficient servicing on fringe lots in Sarnia Township was causing concern. The City attempted to annex the western portion of the former Township to Modeland Road, a bid which failed after a contested Ontario Municipal Board hearing between the two municipalities. In response, the Township developed its own Official Plan to accommodate growth in 1971, and established its own Planning Department in 1975. After 1970, the urban area doubled with the majority of urban expansion occurring in Sarnia Township, which prepared a new more detailed Official Plan by 1985. The role of the Township Planning Department focused on the development of infrastructure to support new development.

1974 - Supervision of Building Department transferred to Planning Department

In 1974, supervision of the City Building Department was transferred to the Planning Department and the joint department renamed the Community Planning and Development Department. It later became Community Planning and Renewal. A new Official Plan was prepared in the City in 1979. This period was characterized by the delivery of neighbourhood improvement programs and the management of urban renewal projects. These included the waterfront park system and various downtown land assemblies.

1991 - Amalgamation

Upon amalgamation in 1991, the Sarnia Community Planning and Renewal Department was merged with the Clearwater (formerly Sarnia Township) Planning and Economic Development Department. The amalgamated Planning and Development Department maintained a Planning Department that was divided into two sections; policy and development planning. In 1994, the City underwent a major reorganization that included the elimination of the policy section and a substantial reduction in staff.

1994 - Planning Advisory Committee

In 1994, the Sarnia Planning Board constituted under the Planning Act and successor to the Sarnia and Suburban Planning Board, was disbanded and replaced with the Planning Advisory Committee (PAC). While the Planning Board heard development applications prior to Council consideration, the PAC is an appointed citizen committee that advises Council on planning matters and works with Planning Department staff on a range of activities. The PAC participated in the development of a unified Official Plan that was prepared in 2001.

Present Day

The City Planning Department is currently part of the City of Sarnia Planning and Building Department with the Planning Director also responsible for oversight of the City's Building and Property Standards activities. The Planning department provides a variety of long-range and development planning services. In addition to development review, the Department undertakes research and policy development and is involved in several community initiatives to improve the quality of life of residents.


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This page was reviewed or revised on Tuesday, September 6, 2016 4:00 PM

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255 North Christina Street,
Sarnia, ON N7T 7N2
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