As new homebuyers, we often don’t think about the many steps required and undertaken by a property developer to bring our new home into existence. Before construction begins, before the ground is even broken on a new development, there is a gruelling screening process every developer must go through to begin working on a new building.
Developments must fit within the Official Community Plan
Each municipality’s Official Community Plan (OCP) is a set of goals and principles that outlines the kind of community that each city aims to become. An OCP allows a city council to plan, coordinate and manage the city cohesively and with longevity. When it comes to property development, the land use sections of an OCP provide a long-term vision for how different parts of the city should develop. Each council will look at how the proposed development interacts with their city’s sustainability, social, economic, and land use interests over the long term. Developers must be able to show that their plans fit in with the OCP and are in the best interest of that community. If the proposed development is not in line with the existing OCP, the developer must submit a request for amendment. An example of an OCP amendment would be if a developer owned a property designated for residential use but wanted to build commercial retail. As a community is comprised of many groups and stakeholders with often-competing interests, the developer must endure a consultation and public hearing around its proposed amendment.
Bylaws observed and rezoning required
Bylaws are set in place to ensure that each new build is created in a way that the government has deemed safe and consistent with the community. The most common bylaws a developer will be required to abide by are the Zoning Bylaw and the Construction Regulation Bylaw. The Construction Regulation Bylaw, together with the provincial government’s BC Building Code, is a set of rules on how to construct buildings in a safe way. The Zoning Bylaw describes allowable building shapes, sizes, placements and uses. Every property is assigned a zone, for example one unit residential or commercial. The Zoning Bylaw states what kind of buildings can be built in each zone, and how they can be used. If a developer wants to build or use a property in a way that is different than what the current zoning allows, they may apply to have the property rezoned under a rezoning application. For example, building a duplex on a lot zoned for a single-unit residence would require a rezoning application. Any rezoning proposals must comply with the OCP’s designation for the property – unless, of course, the developer has submitted an OCP amendment previously. A developer may also apply for a Development Variance Permit (DVP) when they do not need to change the property’s zoning category but do want to receive an exception to a small aspect of the zoning restrictions. For example, a DVP may be submitted to change the building height if a developer sought to build higher than allowed in the Zoning Bylaw, but at a height still within the limits of the OCP.
Building permits: the last step
Once the final adoption of the building has been approved by the city council, developers are required to apply for a building permit. New construction and large alterations projects typically require multiple permits, such as a development permit for large scale projects. A building permit confirms that a project complies with bylaws to meet life safety, livability, accessibility, and sustainability requirements. Often, a limited number of areas within a city have been designated as Development Permit Areas through the OCP. In these areas, a Development Permit is required to construct new development that conforms to the existing zoning. This may include guidelines regulating a structure’s form and character, utility upgrades, and high standards for energy efficiency. Once a structure meets the requirements, it is provided with a building permit.
Before your new home makes it to market, its developer has gone through extensive vetting and planning to make sure that the project adheres to its city’s sustainability, social, economic, and land use interests. While the process may appear arduous, this set of checks and balances ensures that your new home fits into and contributes to the community around it, building the area into a strong and welcoming neighbourhood.