Archaeological Sites on Private, Commercial or Development Property

Property owners and developers can request archaeological site information and, if necessary, engage a professional archaeologist before developing on private or commercial property. During the planning process your local government may request that you hire a professional consulting archaeologist to assess the archaeological site.

Starting a Project

Many local governments have information on the location of protected archaeological sites. If you apply for a rezoning, demolition or building permit and the issuing local government determines that your activities may disturb the archaeological site, they may request that you hire a professional consulting archaeologist to review the situation and decide if further archaeological studies are necessary.

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure will also notify you of possible sites on your land if you apply to subdivide rural property. The ministry will request you, the property owner, complete an impact assessment to find out exactly where the site is located and will place the site under a restrictive covenant.

In many cases, archaeological sites are not within development zones. For example, sites on waterfront properties are usually close to the water and are often contained within zoning setbacks that protect other overlapping values, such as environmental values.

Request Archaeological Information About Your Property

Private and commercial property owners, realtors and lawyers representing a property owner, and consultants or contractors (for example, engineers or architects) can request archaeological information about a property before starting a project. 

Planning before renovating or building can help ensure associated costs are kept to a minimum and damage to the site is mitigated or avoided. Damaging a site without a permit is unlawful. Archaeological sites are fragile. The information contained in an archaeological site comes from the context in which artifacts are found as much as from the artifacts themselves. Once this context is destroyed through construction or landscaping, this information is lost, even if the artifacts are still there.

Archaeological Inspection & Investigation Permits

If there is an archaeological site on your property, you must acquire a permit before you can renovate or develop. Uncontrolled disturbance of a site will result in the loss of information about events and activities that happened on your property hundreds or thousands of years ago.

If there is a site on the property, you may engage a professional consulting archaeologist to complete an archaeological impact assessment before renovating or developing or your property. This study includes field work and is completed by a professional consulting archaeologist under the authority of the B.C. government. The archaeologist will work with you to develop options on how to manage impacts to the archaeological site.

Heritage inspection and investigation permits are issued to professional archaeologists for the purpose of conducting archaeological impact assessments, and mitigating development impacts through the systematic recovery of archaeological data. In addition, archaeologists may monitor development activities under site alteration permits issued to property owners and development proponents. Most proponents have the application prepared by a qualified archaeologist on their behalf.

If the impact assessment results show that development without affecting the archaeological site is possible, you will not require a site alteration permit to proceed with development.

Managing Archaeological Impacts

The impact assessment study determines if the archaeological site has significant heritage value and if there are expected impacts to the site. The professional consulting archaeologist who conducted the study will make recommendations that may include: 

  • Changing the building site or footprint to reduce or avoid impacts to an archaeological site
  • Changing the construction technique to reduce the degree of site impact, for example, substituting an above ground basement or building on pads and or pilings instead of in-ground foundation
  • Completing additional archaeological excavations to recover information that will be impacted by development

If there is no significant value, there may not be objections to developing within the site, however you will still require a site alteration permit. Property owners are responsible for the costs of required archaeological studies. By taking early action, you can minimize the costs to manage impact to any archaeological sites.

Will a Site on My Property Affect Property Value?

There are two issues that may affect property values:

  • How does an archaeological site affect the present use of my property, and 
  • How will the site affect the future use of my property?

The current use of the property is seldom affected unless the use involves significant land alteration. A structure on a fully developed lot is not affected by overlapping with an archaeological site. An active gravel pit, for example, is a concern, because this current use may damage or destroy a site.

New development such as altering a building footprint, major landscaping, or installation of in-ground infrastructure, may be a concern, because the new activity may damage the archaeological site.