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Urban Design Guidelines for Large-Format Retail

Urban Design Guidelines for Large-Format Retail

Approved by City Council on May 24, 2006
Publication #21-05

Urban Design Guidelines for Large-Format Retail [PDF 1.95 MB]

Large-Format Retail is a term applied to large floor plate, one-storey retail outlets, usually operated as part of a chain, that locate on individual sites or that cluster on a large site, sometimes adjacent to each other. Large-format stores, commonly referred to as "big-box" stores, serve a region-wide market and typically locate at highly visible locations at major intersections or adjacent to highways.

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 large format retail stores .  Specific site context and conditions will also be reviewed in conjunction with these guidelines. 

These guidelines are to be applied throughout the City for all large format retail development.  When large-format retail projects are located in areas identified as Mainstreets, the guidelines for Mainstreets also apply.  Where a Community Design Plan or relevant planning study exits, these guidelines will augment those documents.  In addition, these guidelines will be used to help inform the formulation of new Community Design Plans.


  • To achieve interesting, high-quality architectural design for large-format retail buildings
  • To enhance landscaping, public open space, and environmental performance of such developments
  • To create comfortable and attractive pedestrian environments
  • To enhance the streetscape along public streets and contribute to a high quality public space
  • To protect and enhance the character and quality of the districts and neighbourhoods where large-format retail developments are located
  • To promote development patterns that allow for future intensification

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, achieving compatibility of large-format retail development 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, applicable regulations, Private Approach By-law, Signs By-law and Zoning By-laws must also be met.

Context and Challenges

Large format retail developments are a product of the automotive age and have multiplied significantly over the past 15 or more years. While they have been financially successful, many opportunities to improve their physical design and function exist, including enhancing the architectural design of box-style buildings; enhancing the pedestrian environment both within development sites and along public streets; increasing the amounts of landscaping in order to mitigate environmental and visual impact of parking areas;  designing in a manner that contributes to the public realm, the character of the street and surrounding neighbourhoods ; and designing with consideration for the future adaptability and intensification of the site.


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

Foundation planting: planting that extends along a building wall and hides the foundation

Glazing: clear or lightly tinted glass windows

Pedestrian walkway: sidewalk on private property

Property line: the legal boundary of a property

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

Figure Credits

Figures Description
Figures 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 18, 20b, 21a, 21b, 22, 24, 26, 28, 29: Ottawa, Ontario.  City of Ottawa
Figures 2, 8, 9, 17: N/A, City of Ottawa
Figure 7: Hull, Quebec.  City of Ottawa
Figure 14: Toronto, Ontario.  Taylor Harriri Pontarini Architects
Figure 16: N/A, Adapted from IBI Group
Figure 19: Markham, Ontario.  City of Ottawa
Figure 20a: Easton, Ohio.
Figure 23: Calgary, Alberta.  City of Ottawa
Figure 25: US Environmental Protection Agency
Figure 27: Kingston, Ontario.  City of Ottawa