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British Columbia Land Use Planning (1-BC-a)

Information current as of 2018
In British Columbia, land use planning is a cooperative process between the provincial and local governments. Local governments, which are municipalities and regional districts, have authority to regulate land use within their boundaries. Local Government Act, R.S.B.C. 2015, c. 1, ss. 263, 456; Community Charter, S.B.C. 2003, c. 26, s. 8. Local government land use bylaws (i.e., regulations) must be consistent with provincial enactments. Community Charter, S.B.C. 2003, c. 26, s. 10.


In British Columbia 94% of the land is designated crown land and regulated by the provincial government. Community Charter, S.B.C. 2003, c. 26, s. 10; British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations – Crown Land: Indicators and Statistics (2010).



Land Use Planning Process

1-BC-a.1 to 1-BC-a.3 – Contact Provincial Agency with Jurisdiction

A developer should contact the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations (“FLNR”), Ministry of Environment, and/or the provincial agency with jurisdiction to determine if the proposed project is subject to a provincial Strategic Land Use Plan (“SLUP”) or other provincial land use regulation. If there is a SLUP or other provincial land use regulation, then the developer should review the SLUP or land use regulation to determine whether the project complies. The developer should also determine whether any legal order accompanies the SLUP. If there is an accompanying legal order, then the developer should review it to determine whether the project complies with the legal mandates.

SLUPs are non-binding, policy-based zones that provide high-level land use direction and broad objectives for government officials to consider when making natural resource decisions. British Columbia Forest Practices Board – Provincial Land Use Planning: Which Way from Here? (2008). However, SLUPs accompanied by legal orders or legislation are legally binding. Provincial agencies established SLUPs on a case-by-case basis with no uniform criteria for the area they cover. As of 2008, 26 SLUPs covered 85% of British Columbia and approximately half had binding orders under the Forest Practices Code, which agencies enacted to legally implement the SLUPs. British Columbia Forest Practices Board – Provincial Land Use Planning: Which Way from Here? (2008).

In 2008, the provincial government repealed the Forest Practices Code and replaced it with the Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA). However, SLUPs persist and FRPA grandfathered all legal orders from the Forest Practices Code. Forest and Range Practices Act, S.B.C. 2002, c. 69, s. 180.

Today, the Land Act is the principal mechanism for provincial agencies, to establish land use regulations. FLNR establishes legal land use objectives that subject certain areas to binding designations and objectives. Land Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 245, s. 93.4. For example, FLNR uses this process to establish Old Growth Management Areas that restrict logging and development in certain forests.

There are other agencies with power to designate land for certain uses. For example, the Ministry of Environment may establish Land Use Designated Areas under the Environment and Land Use Act or Wildlife Management Areas under the Wildlife Act. Environment and Land Use Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 117, s. 7; Wildlife Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 488, s. 4. Less prominent land use planning processes and agencies are not comprehensively listed here.

1-BC-a.4 – Contact Local Government with Jurisdiction

A developer should contact the local government with jurisdiction over the proposed project to determine whether the project complies with local regulations and guidance. Local governments, which are municipalities and regional districts, have authority to regulate land use within their boundaries. Local Government Act, R.S.B.C. 2015, c. 1, ss. 263, 456; Community Charter, S.B.C. 2003, c. 26, s. 8. Nevertheless, local government land use bylaws (i.e., regulations) must comply with provincial government enactments, such as Land Use Designated Areas or SLUPs with binding legal orders. Community Charter, S.B.C. 2003, c. 26, s. 10. Local land use planning mechanisms include: Official Community Plans, zoning bylaws (i.e., regulations), Development Permit Areas, and other permitting and development regulations. Regional Districts may also enact a Regional Growth Strategy to which municipalities within the region may contribute and assent. Local Government Act, R.S.B.C. 2015, c. 1, ss. 426 – 455.

1-BC-a.5 to 1-BC-a.6 – Is There an Official Community Plan and/or Regional Growth Strategy?

The developer should determine if there is an Official Community Plan (“Plan”) or Regional Growth Strategy (“Strategy”) in place that may affect the project. If so, the developer should review the Plan or Strategy to determine whether the project complies. A Plan is a “statement of objectives and policies to guide decisions on planning and land use management.” Local Government Act, R.S.B.C. 2015, c. 1, s. 471. A Plan itself does not “commit or authorize” any entity to any action, but all subsequent “bylaws enacted or works undertaken . . . must be consistent with the relevant plan.” Local Government Act, R.S.B.C. 2015, c. 1, s. 478. Local governments must designate the area covered by a Plan and may enact multiple Plans within their boundaries.

A Regional Growth Strategy (“Strategy”) operates similarly to a Plan, except it generally affects larger areas, longer time periods, and each regional district may only enact one. Local Government Act, R.S.B.C. 2015, c. 1, s. 430. A regional district must consult and attempt to reach consensus with municipalities that a proposed Strategy affects. If any municipality refuses the Strategy, then the provincial government facilitates settlement of the dispute, resulting in a binding Strategy. Local Government Act, R.S.B.C. 2015, c. 1, s. 440.

1-BC-a.7 to 1-BC-a.12 – Does the Local Government Have Zoning Bylaws?

If the municipality or regional district has zoning bylaws (i.e., regulations), then the developer should review them to determine whether the proposed project complies. A local government may establish zoning bylaws to “divide the whole or part of the municipality or regional district into zones” and “regulate the use of land, buildings and other structures,” which includes the density, size, and location of development. Local Government Act, R.S.B.C. 2015, c. 1, s. 479.

Local governments use zoning bylaws (i.e., regulations) to implement their Plans or Strategy. For example, a local government may establish Development Permit Areas with a Plan and enact bylaws to effectuate the Plan. Local Government Act, R.S.B.C. 2015, c. 1, s. 488. Local governments may establish these areas for a broad range of objectives, including: protection of the environment, agriculture, or public safety; promotion of commercial, industrial, or residential development; conservation of energy and water; and more. Development Permit Areas are designated areas that require any person to obtain a Development Permit from the local government and comply with Development Permit conditions to work and build in the area. Local Government Act, R.S.B.C. 2015, c. 1, s. 489. The local government body with jurisdiction may grant a Development Permit only by resolution. If the proposed project requires access to a Development Permit Area, the developer should initiate the Development Permit process as described by the local government with jurisdiction. Similarly, a Plan may specify circumstances or areas in which a developer should provide development approval information, to the local government with jurisdiction, but a bylaw is necessary to legally require the development approval information. Local Government Act, R.S.B.C. 2015, c. 1, ss. 486, 487. If bylaws require such information, a developer may need to submit an analysis of how its project impacts traffic, local infrastructure, public facilities, community services, and the natural environment. Local Government Act, R.S.B.C. 2015, c. 1, ss. 484, 485. Supplying development approval information may be part of the process to obtain a Development Permit, or broader circumstances and areas may require development approval information. If the proposed project requires a Development Permit or other local government zoning approval, the developer should consult with the local government with jurisdiction for details on how to initiate the zoning approval process.

1-BC-a.13 to 1-BC-a.14 – Does the Local Government have Other Applicable Land Use Regulations?

The developer should review all applicable land use regulations and determine whether the project complies. Local governments may enact land use bylaws (i.e., regulations), separate from Plans or zoning, that require any person to obtain a permit for certain activities or development in certain locations. For example, local governments may designate lands that are subject to erosion and avalanches as tree cutting permit areas without a Plan or zoning scheme. Local Government Act, R.S.B.C. 2015, c. 1, s. 500. Additionally, local governments have broad land use planning powers to regulate matters such as flood plains, water runoff, signage, landscaping, and more. Local Government Act, R.S.B.C. 2015, c. 1, ss. 523 – 527. Local governments may create Advisory Planning Commissions to assist with land use matters. Local Government Act, R.S.B.C. 2015, c. 1, s. 461. If the proposed project requires other local government land use approval, the developer should consult with the local government with jurisdiction for details on how to initiate the land use approval process.

1-BC-a.15 to 1-BC-a.17 – Does the Project Comply with all Local Regulations?

If the project does not comply with the local zoning bylaws or other land use regulations, then the developer may apply for a Development Variance Permit (“DVP”) or a Variance Local Government Act, R.S.B.C. 2015, c. 1, ss. 498, 542. A Variance is appropriate for minor variances, which are necessary to avoid undue hardship for the applicant (developer). A DVP is appropriate for variances that are not minor, but may not authorize deviations from land use regulations, density regulations, or flood plain specifications. Unlike a Variance, a DVP does not require the applicant (developer) to demonstrate undue hardship. Local Government Act, R.S.B.C. 2015, c. 1, s. 542. Generally, a developer must submit a DVP Application to a municipal council or a Variance Application to a Board of Variance, respectively. The developer should contact the applicable local government for details on how to apply for a DVP or a Variance.

1-BC-a.18 to 1-BC-a.20 – Review Application Materials for Approval

Variance

Only a Board of Variance may grant a Variance, which the Board of Variance does by an order. Local Government Act, R.S.B.C. 2015, c. 1, s. 498. The Board of Variance may grant a Variance if it finds compliance with a bylaw would cause undue hardship to the applicant (developer), the Board of Variance has heard the applicant (developer) and all notified parties, and the Board of Variance is of the opinion the Variance does not:

  • Result in inappropriate development of the site;
  • Adversely affect the natural environment;
  • Substantially affect the use and enjoyment of adjacent land;
  • Vary permitted uses and densities;
  • Conflict with a floodplain bylaw;
  • Defeat the intent of the bylaw; or
  • Vary the application of an applicable bylaw in relation to residential rental tenure.

Local Government Act, R.S.B.C. 2015, c. 1, s. 542. The Board of Variance must notify all owners and tenants in occupation of the land covered by the Variance Application and adjacent land. The notice must state the subject matter of the Variance Application and the time and place where the Variance Application will be heard. Local Government Act, R.S.B.C. 2015, c. 1, s. 541.

Development Variance Permit (DVP)

Only a municipal council, regional board, or a delegate may issue a DVP, which it must do by passing a resolution. A local government may issue a DVP despite other consequences, such as damage to the environment or enjoyment of adjacent land. Local Government Act, R.S.B.C. 2015, c. 1, s. 542. Local governments follow the procedures stated in their local Plan or zoning bylaws.

1-BC-a.21 – Appeal the Decision (Optional)

A developer may petition for judicial review by the Supreme Court of British Columbia within 60 days of the decision by the local government body. Administrative Tribunals Act, S.B.C. 2004, c. 45, s. 57.


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