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Urban Design Guidelines for Gas Stations

Urban Design Guidelines for Gas Stations

Approved by City Council on May 24, 2006
Publication #21-06

Urban Design Guidelines for Gas Stations [PDF Version 1.66 MB]

A gas station is a facility where gasoline or other fuels are sold and where maintenance and minor automobile repair services may be conducted.  A gas station consists of a gas bar with gasoline outlets and typically other associated facilities such as car washes, automotive services, convenience stores and food services.

Purpose and Application

The purpose of these guidelines is to provide urban design guidance at the planning application stage in order to assess, promote and achieve appropriate development of gas stations. Specific site context and conditions will be reviewed in conjunction with these guidelines.

These guidelines are to be applied throughout the City for development of all gas stations. When gas stations are located in areas identified as Mainstreets, the guidelines for development along Mainstreets also apply.  When gas stations are located together with drive-through facilities, the guidelines for drive-through facilities also apply.  Where a Community Design Plan or relevant planning study exists, these guidelines will augment those documents.  They will also be used to help inform the preparation of new Community Design Plans.


  • To promote compatible gas station development that improves its existing or planned context
  • To protect and enhance the character and quality of the districts and neighbourhoods where gas stations are located
  • To enhance the public streets and contribute to a high quality public space
  • To create safe and controlled traffic circulation that balances the needs of vehicles and pedestrians
  • To minimize impacts on adjacent land uses that could be caused by on-site activities

Official Plan and By-law Direction

The Official Plan identifies compatibility as a key design objective for the built environment. As per Sections 2.5.1 and 4.11 of the Official Plan, achieving compatibility of new development, such as gas stations, will involve not only consideration of built form, but also of operational characteristics and development context. 

Annex 1 of the Official Plan identifies the protected rights-of-way sufficient to provide for streetscape elements and to meet the needs of pedestrians and cyclists.

Annex 3 of the Official Plan contains a number of design considerations that provide suggestions for how to meet the Design Objectives and Principles in Section 2.5.1 of the Official Plan.  All other policies of the Official Plan and applicable regulations, such as the Private Approach By-law, the Signs By-law and the Zoning By-law must also be met.

Context and Challenges

Numerous trends in the industry are affecting the design of gas station sites.  Gas stations often operate 24 hours per day, tend to locate on larger sites, and contain an increased number of gas pumps.  Auto services associated with gas stations are declining, while other services such as convenience stores, car washes, banking machines, retail units and drive-through services are increasing, which results in consumers leaving their vehicles and circulating around the site on foot.  Additionally, major petroleum companies have adopted a set of standard building and canopy types to assert a cohesive image and presence in the marketplace. 

As a result of these trends, the design of gas station sites presents several challenges, including incorporating prototypical building designs and corporate image elements into the immediate context; addressing the complexity of large sites and the requirements of the many different uses; designing a circulation pattern to meet the needs of both vehicles and pedestrians; supporting a pedestrian-friendly environment along public streets; and using landscape areas effectively to improve the overall environmental and visual quality of the area.


The following figure illustrates many of the elements discussed in the guidelines and defined in the glossary. It is for illustrative purposes only since the specific site context and characteristics will determine the relationships among these elements for an actual site.

The following figure illustrates many of the elements discussed in the guidelines and defined in the glossary. It is for illustrative purposes only since the specific site context and characteristics will determine the relationships among these elements for an actual site.

Amenity: something that contributes to an area's needs, whether social, environmental or cultural

Built form: buildings and structures

Character: the unique identity of a place

Compatible / Compatibility: when the density, form, bulk, height, setbacks, and/or materials of buildings are able to co-exist with their surrounding

Driveway: a private way across land used for vehicular access from a public street - includes a private right-of-way

Façade: the principal face of a building (also referred to as the front wall)

Front yard: the space between the property line and the building facing the public street

Gas bar: place that sells automotive fuel along with small amounts of other automotive-related products such as pre-packaged motor oil or wind-shield washer fluid

Hard landscape: landscape features other than plant materials (e.g. decorative pavers, planter boxes, walks, fences, retaining walls, etc.)

Impervious surface: surface of land where water cannot infiltrate back into the ground (e.g. roofs, driveways, streets and parking lots)

Landscape buffer: a landscape area located along the perimeter of a lot intended to separate land uses either from one another or from a public street

Lane: a narrow street at the back of buildings, generally used for service and parking

Parking lot: a lot or other place used for the temporary parking of four or more passenger vehicles

Pedestrian walkway: sidewalk on private property

Permeable surface: a surface formed of material that allows infiltration of water to the sub-base

Property line: the legal boundary of a property

Public realm: the streets, lanes, parks and open spaces that are free and available to anyone to use

Right-of-way: a public or private area that allows for passage of people or goods, including, but not limited to, freeways, streets, bicycle paths, alleys, trails and walkways

Scale: the size of a building or an architectural feature in relation to its surroundings and to the size of a person

Screening: vegetation, landforms or structures that serve to reduce the impact of development on nearby properties

Setback: the required distance from a road, property line, or another structure, within which no building can be located

Sidewalk: unobstructed concrete or paved area for pedestrian travel in the public right-of-way

Stacking lane: an on-site queuing lane for motorized vehicles, which is separated from other vehicular traffic and pedestrian circulation by barriers, markings or signs

Streetscape: the overall character and appearance of a street formed by buildings and landscape features that frame the public street. Includes building facades, street trees and plants, lighting, street furniture, paving, etc.

Urban design: the analysis and design of the city's physical form

Figure Credits

Figures Description
Figure 1: North Carolina, USA. The Conservation Fund
Figure 2: South Carolina, USA.  The Conservation Fund
Figure 3: New Jersey, USA.
Figure 4,5,6,9,10,11,12,13,14,16,17,19: Ottawa, Ontario.  City of Ottawa
Figure 7,8,20: Markham, Ontario.  Bousefield Inc.
Figure 15: Montreal, Quebec.  City of Ottawa
Figure 18: Unknown.  US Environmental Protection Agency.
Figure 21: Unknown.   Ir Grootveld Architects.