Land Use Planning and Sustainable Development

Land Use Planning and Sustainable Development

Whether you’re an individual looking to build your dream home, or a larger-scale commercial developer, land use and planning applications have never been more relevant for those living, working, and playing on Vancouver Island. 

Firstly, land use planning is not just about regulating land use. Sustainable and efficient land use practices are about designing communities that maximize economic, social, and environmental benefits. The need to preserve Vancouver Island’s unique ecological systems and old-growth forests has never been more evident. To address this, efficient land use planning that integrates environmental, human, and commercial/industrial needs must be utilized.

In 2022 and in the expectant future, Vancouver Island is predicted to be a hotspot for newcomers. Population growth in the Greater Victoria Area (Capital Region) is expected to reach over 28% by 2030.

What are some growth challenges that affect regions such as Victoria and the rest of Vancouver Island?

Common major growth challenges that affect planning at the municipal level are containing urban sprawl, protecting green spaces, and preserving agricultural activity and rural areas. Other constraints include policies that work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while incentivizing walkable neighbourhoods and generating sufficient affordable housing and infrastructure supply. 

Land use planning not only has large-scale effects but is also relevant for small businesses and local property owners. From subdividing to removing trees and constructing retaining walls, land use planning and permit applications come into effect.

Zoning, Official Community Plans, and Land Use Planning

Land use is primarily managed through zoning bylaws at the municipal level. Zones, as outlined in zoning bylaws, are used to classify lands and designate allowable land uses, and restrictions, in certain areas of a municipality. Some examples of zones include single-use residential or commercial, mixed-use, or a combination.

Mixed-use developments are becoming more common on Vancouver Island as their social, economic, and environmental benefits are highlighted across developing suburbs and smaller cities in BC such as Nanaimo, Surrey and Port Moody. The issue with mixed-use developments in the planning stages of the project are zoning related. Proposed mixed-use developments in single-use zoning areas must be re-zoned into zoning that accommodates comprehensive developments.

In addition to zoning bylaws, municipalities typically release Official Community Plans (OCPs) that outline long-term visions and goals related to land use management, planning, density, sustainability and direction for maintaining their town or city’s community values. These documents usually contain land use designation information for particular neighbourhoods in their municipality.

What does the re-zoning process look like?

What if an owner or prospective buyer wants to utilize their property for a land use (commercial or higher-density residential for example) that is not consistent with their neighbourhood’s zoning or designation in the OCP? For example, what if a developer is looking into building townhouses or an apartment building in a single-family residential zone? What if a homeowner wants to open a small business such as a hair salon on their property? 

Zoning and OCP amendments for a property are a multi-step process that involves many moving parts and stakeholders such as the property owners, city planners, Indigenous communities, neighbourhood and municipal councils, in addition to other bodies/agencies depending on the project. 

Permit applications are required for changing zoning or land designation as outlined in the zoning bylaw and OCP for the municipality. An application along with accompanying information (such as land titles, survey plans, environmental or geotechnical assessments) are submitted to the municipality for review. Depending on the project a public hearing or information session may be required. The application is then reviewed and voted on by council to determine if the project will be accepted.

Land Use Contracts

What are land use contracts?

Previously used in the City of Victoria, land use contracts are a regulatory tool that were utilized in place of zoning. These contracts were site-specific contracts between local governments and property owners governing the types of land use to take place on the property. Land use contracts were seen as allowing for more flexibility compared to traditional zoning methods.

Did you know that land use contracts in the City of Victoria are terminating in June 2024? At that time, the underlying zoning designations as outlined in the City of Victoria’s zoning regulation will take effect for all land in the City of Victoria. This would make any properties incompatible with their underlying zoning designations considered “non-conforming”. Therefore, any existing building additions or structures on the property that do not meet the City of Victoria zoning bylaw for that area would be considered legally non-conforming and may be required to re-zone. Moreover, any new developments or land uses will be required to comply with the zoning regulation. 

Whether you are property owner, small business owner, or large-scale developer you are likely to come across land use planning and permitting requirements. The permitting process varies depending on the size and type of project and can be complex with many stakeholders involved. 

Please contact WES if you have any questions or would like to discuss further. 


Sustainable Land Use Practices in Canadian municipalities

Vancouver Island Land Use Plan

City of Victoria Municipal Website. Accessed December 22, 2022 at

Differences in Experiences with the Development of Mixed-Use Projects from 2004-2017

Local Government Act. RSBC 2015, Chapter 1.

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