Zoning bylaws

Zoning implements municipal and regional district land use planning visions expressed in official community plans and regional growth strategies, and may support community sustainability and resilience goals. Zoning bylaws regulate how land, buildings and other structures may be used.

Zoning bylaws may divide the whole or part of an area into zones, name each zone and establish the boundaries of those zones.

For example, residential zones can be defined to reflect different types of residential uses in a community such as single-family, duplex and multi-family. The names of the zones and the related details are determined by each local government so there may be variation between communities throughout the province..

A zoning bylaw can limit the height of buildings and other structures and permitted uses in a zone and create other zones in the space vertically above or below it. For example, vertical zoning could apply to a mixed-use project with commercial use at street level and residential use above.

The power to regulate through a zoning bylaw also includes the power for local governments to prohibit any use or uses in a zone.

Municipalities are required to align zoning bylaws with their official community plans and housing needs reports every five years, including updating zoning bylaws to permit the use and density to accommodate the total number of housing units needed over at least the next 20 years.

By June 30, 2024 local governments must update their zoning bylaws to accommodate small-scale, multi-unit housing and Transit-Oriented Development Areas requirement. 

Zoning regulation

The following may be regulated within a zone:

  • Use and density of land, buildings and other structures
  • Siting, size and dimensions of buildings and other structures and permitted uses
  • Location of uses on the land and within buildings and other structures
  • Shape, dimensions and area of all parcels of land created by subdivision (this can include establishing minimum and maximum parcel sizes)

The zoning bylaw may make different provisions for one or more of the following:

  • Different zones
  • Uses within a zone
  • Locations within a zone
  • Standards of works and services:
    • Provisions may be different for different areas
    • The boundaries of servicing areas may be different from the boundaries of the zone
  • Siting circumstances
  • Protected heritage properties

Farming zoning restrictions

To support farming, the minister responsible for agriculture may establish standards and guidelines for use in local bylaws.

The Lieutenant Governor in Council (Cabinet) may make regulations to restrict zoning in relation to farming either generally or for specified geographic areas. The regulations may be different for different local governments, different areas and different circumstances.

In these cases a local government may be able to restrict the use of land for a farm business in a farming area only if it has received the approval of the minister responsible for agriculture. For example, a bylaw could address matters such as conduct of farm operations, types of machinery or the siting of waste facilities.

Density bonusing and amenities

Local governments use density bonus zoning (density bonusing) to acquire amenities that have been identified in the zoning bylaw in return for higher density for a development.

Zoning bylaw amendments and variances

As circumstances change over time, there may be a need to amend a zoning bylaw or to apply for a development variance permit or for a board of variance order.

Bylaw amendment

  • Requested by a developer for a specific site
  • Initiated by a local government for a specific site or for a larger area (for example, to coincide with an official community plan amendment or a larger update to an official community plan)

A local government must not hold a public hearing if a proposed zoning bylaw is consistent with the official community plan (OCP) in effect for the area. Where there is not consistency with the OCP, a local government must hold a public hearing on a proposed zoning bylaw, including amendments to the bylaw.

Bylaw variance

There are two methods to seek a variance to a zoning bylaw, depending on the circumstances.

Development variance permit

Municipal councils or regional district boards can approve a development variance permit for a number of different situations. For example, this type of permit can vary the provisions of a zoning bylaw, subdivision servicing, park land, parcel frontage on a highway, other bylaws (such as runoff control, parking, screening or landscaping) and certain other provisions. This type of permit must not vary use, density or flood plain specifications.

Board of variance

Any local government that has a zoning bylaw must establish a board of variance. The board can order a minor variance to address a hardship related to siting, size or dimensions of a building or structure or the siting of a manufactured home in a manufactured home park.

The variance must be minor and the board has several limitations to what types of variances apply.

Non-Conforming uses

At the time a new land use regulation bylaw is adopted, if an existing use of land or a building is lawfully used and it does not conform to the bylaw, then it may be continued as a legal non-comforming use unless:

  • The use is discontinuesd for a period of six months (subject to normal seasonal and agricultural practices)
  • More than 75% of the value of the building or structure above its foundation is damaged or destroyed

In most cases, a legal non-conforming use cannot be expanded however it can be maintained under certain circumstances.

If the use and density of an existing building conforms to a new land use regulation bylaw, but the building’s siting, size or dimensions do not, the building may be maintained, extended or altered as long as it does not result in further contravention of the bylaw.

Any new use of land or a building is subject to the new bylaw.