Incentives for developers: transferable heritage density bonuses

To help protect our important heritage resources, the City has developed a transferable density program.

Under the terms of this program, if a developer agrees to rehabilitate and legally protect any heritage buildings on their development site, the City will allow the developer the chance to increase the density of their project.

How does transferable density work?

In some cases, it will not be possible to add more development to the site where the heritage building is located.

In these instances, Council or the development permit board may allow the developer to transfer the bonus density to a separate site, where there is more opportunity for development.

In these cases, the site of the heritage building is called the "donor" site. The site where the transferred density is to be used it called the "receiver" site.

Where in the city can density bonuses be transferred?

In the Central Area

It may be possible to transfer heritage density from donor to receiver sites throughout most of the Central Area.

Receiver site locations

The zoning districts in the Central Area where potential receiver sites can be located are:

  • Downtown District (DD)
  • West End (RM-5, RM-5A, RM-5B, C-5, C-5A, C-6)
  • Central Broadway (C-3A)
  • Southeast False Creek (SEFC) from sites located outside of SEFC (noting that density may not be transferred from inside SEFC to any site located outside of SEFC)

Donor site locations

The zoning districts in the Central Area where potential donor sites can be located are:

  • Downtown District (DD)
  • West End (RM-5, RM-5A, RM-5B, C-5, C-6)
  • Central Broadway (C-3A)
  • Chinatown (HA-1 and HA-1A)
  • Gastown (HA-2) zoning districts

Outside of the Central Area

Outside of the Central Area, Council policy is that heritage density transfers may occur through CD-1 rezonings and if the donor and receiver sites “are not separated by a zoning boundary or use, density or height district boundary in an Official Development Plan”, unless the sites are both within the same block.

What kind of permissions are required?

The type of permit or permission you need to receive transferable density depends on the amount of additional density you require, and the location of the receiver site:

  • Development application - If your project includes up to a 10% increase in density inside the Central Area
  • Rezoning application - If your project includes an increase of density of more than 10%, or your site is outside the Central Area

Getting a development permit

In several of the zoning districts within the Central Area, the Development Permit Board may approve a development application requesting an increase in density of up to 10% more than is permitted by the existing zoning. 

In these cases, the Board will give particular consideration to the impact of a density increase on:

  • Shadowing
  • Floor plate shape and size
  • Height and public views

They will also consider the opinions of anyone who considers themselves affected by the increased density.

Under Council policy, the following cannot be receiver sites:

  • Already receiving a 15 percent hotel bonus
  • Already receiving a heritage density bonus
  • Containing a single room occupancy (SRO) hotel, unless arrangements are made to secure or replace units
  • Zoned CD-1, unless a provision is included in the CD-1 bylaw.

Making a rezoning application

If the proposed increase in density is more than 10%, or the receiver site is located outside the districts listed above, you need to submit a rezoning application.

Learn more

Are there additional development and rezoning application requirements?

Both development applications and rezoning applications have two additional requirements when density transfers are involved:

  • At the application stage, proof that the donor site has the necessary amount of density available
  • At the approval stage, proof that the sale of density has been completed

Proving that the donor site has the necessary amount of density available

To prove that the donor site has the necessary amount of density, both development applications and rezoning applications must include Letter A. 

Letter A is signed by both the donor site owner and the receiver site owner. It provides the City with evidence that the donor site has available the amount of density requested by the receiver site, and that a conditional agreement has been reached for the sale of this amount of density.

If you submit a rezoning application, submit Letter A before your public hearing.

Proving that the sale of density has been completed

Before a development permit can be issued, or a rezoning bylaw enacted, the City requires confirmation that the sale of density has been completed.  

Provide this information by filling out Letter B.

When rehabilitation is not complete by the time a development permit is issued or rezoning enacted

If the heritage rehabilitation is not complete by the time the development permit is issues or rezoning enacted, a Progress Report must accompany Letter B. 

The Progress Report includes:

  • A report from the construction consultant and conservation consultant for the project, providing details of the completed and uncompleted work and the associated costs
  • The conservation consultant’s written confirmation that the work completed conforms with the Development Permit (including the conservation plan and outline specifications)
  • A summary of the total density available for transfer and details of any previous transfers including amount and receiver site addresses
  • The amount of density requested for transfer, the receiver site of the current request and the resulting net balance of unsold density on the donor site; and
  • A calculation verifying that the amount of density remaining after the current transfer request is sufficient to cover the costs to complete the heritage rehabilitation. If the amount requested for transfer is lower than the cost to complete, a Letter of Credit will be required.

When is the density transferred?

The City allows heritage density to be transferred after:

  • The rehabilitation of the building on the donor site is complete, or
  • The donor site owner enters into a heritage agreement with the City

About heritage agreements

The Heritage Agreement, registered against the donor site, specifies the conditions that must be met before the heritage density is legally available for transfer.

These conditions include:

  • The rehabilitation of the heritage building is complete, an occupancy permit has been issued, and a final Progress Report has been submitted
  • The Donor Site Owner has provided a letter of credit to the City for 120% of the value of the density being transferred
  • Sufficient rehabilitation of the heritage building has taken place to warrant a partial release of the density. The Donor Site Owner has submitted a Progress Report in support of a request for a partial release of density.

About letters of credit

Once the donor site owner has received a development permit and a building permit for the rehabilitation of the heritage building, it is possible to sell all or part of the available transferable heritage density prior to completion of the rehabilitation of the building, if the City is provided with a Letter of Credit.

The Donor Site Owner arranges for a Letter of Credit through a Schedule 1 Canadian chartered bank and sends it to the Heritage Planner, who will forward it to Legal Services. The Letter of Credit is unconditional, irrevocable, and self-renewing. 

The Letter of Credit is for 120% of the value of the density to be transferred.

(Note: The value of the density for transfer is considered to be the value at the time of Council’s approval.)

Request for a drawdown on a letter of credit

The Donor Site Owner may request a drawdown in the dollar amount of the Letter of Credit previously submitted, provided part of the rehabilitation work has been completed, by submitting a Progress Report to the Heritage Planner. 

After reviewing the Progress Report, the Heritage Planner will determine if the request can be supported.

The City needs to hold security to cover the costs of the outstanding work to complete all aspects of the development. Security can be a combination of the unsold density valued at the time it was approved by Council, and a Letter of Credit valued at 120% of the portion of the work secured by the Letter of Credit.

The lawyer for the Donor Site Owner then requests a draw down of the Letter of Credit in the amount advised by the Heritage Planner.

Upon completion of the heritage rehabilitation and issuance of an occupancy permit, the Donor Site Owner will submit the final Progress Report to the Heritage Planner. Any Letter of Credit will then be returned to the Donor Site Owner upon written request.

A Progress Report is also required for a draw down on a Letter of Credit or for release of the density held by the City. Progress Reports are confirmed by the Heritage Planner, in consultation with other City staff. Allow sufficient time for Progress Reports to be processed. The Progress Report is to be submitted to the Heritage Planner and is to include:

  • The conservation consultant’s written confirmation that the work completed conforms with the Development Permit (including the conservation plan and outline specifications
  • A summary of the total density available for transfer and details of any previous transfers including amount and receiver site addresses
  • The amount of density requested for transfer, the receiver site of the current request and the resulting net balance of unsold density on the donor site
  • A calculation verifying that the amount of density remaining after the current transfer request is sufficient to cover the costs to complete the heritage rehabilitation. If the amount requested for transfer is lower than the cost to complete, a Letter of Credit will be required.

Density for sale

Find out what properties are selling heritage density.

View the Transferable Heritage Density inventory

Buying and selling heritage density