How the development process works

Overview

What is development?

In Vancouver, development is "any change in the use of any land or building, or the carrying out of any construction, engineering or other operation in, on, over or under land, or land covered by water."

Development applies to both construction / renovation and to changing the use of a building or part of a building.

Development is regulated by the Zoning and Development Bylaw.

How does zoning fit in?

Zoning is used to guide development in a manner that is compatible with its neighbours, and to carry out community visions and Council policies.

When you are applying for a development application, there are a number of steps you should take to help the process go as quickly and smoothly as possible.

Check the zoning and relevant bylaws

  • Contact the Enquiry Centre to check the zoning of the property
  • Make sure that you or your contractor have checked the most current bylaws and (if applicable) design guidelines

Meet with a staff person, if appropriate

  • If design guidelines are involved, ask for a referral to a Development Planner. The planner will make an appointment to meet with you for a pre-design conference.

Bring all of the required documents and drawings with you when you apply

  • See the guide When are Development Permits Required in Vancouver? for a list of application requirements.
  • If it is a major application, see the guide Applying for a Major Development Permit for more information.

NOTE: Incomplete drawings and information will delay filing and processing your application, or could result in your application being refused.

Pay the application fee

Application fees are established by City Council and set out in Appendix E, Schedule 1 of the Zoning and Development Bylaw. The fees are generally based on the gross floor area of the development; however, they can vary depending on the complexity of the application.

The fees are set to recover the cost of processing the applications, and are not refundable once the processing has been completed and a decision made.

Overview

The time it takes to reach a decision depends largely on the following factors:

  • The zoning
  • The proposed use
  • If you are seeking any discretionary increases in regulations
  • If you are seeking any relaxations

These factors will also determine whether your application will need to be reviewed by other departments and work groups. It can take up to several months to review all factors and reach a decision on an application.

Those applications that have little or no impact on the work of other departments or work groups, or neighbouring property owners, are often processed within a few weeks. Some simple applications may be fast-tracked or processed as a combined development and building permit.

Additions and renovations to existing single-family dwellings are often processed within a few weeks.

NOTE: The time it takes to process an application varies. It will depend on the number of applications in process, the adequacy and accuracy of the information submitted with your application, and any time you will have to spend on required revisions.

Are you more visual? View a flowchart of the development permit review process here.

Bylaw check

A Project Coordinator (PC) or Enquiry Centre Officer (ECO) will review the application against zoning and parking regulations, and against any relevant land use policies and guidelines.

For development involving existing buildings, staff will research the history of the site and development to confirm off-street parking and loading requirements, the approved use(s) and zoning bylaw compliance. For development involving new construction, staff will also research previous uses to find out if there may be environmental concerns with the site.

Staff also consider other factors such as:

  • Areas currently under planning review
  • Archaeological sites
  • Flood plains

Design guidelines

If design guidelines are applicable, staff will seek feedback from a Development Planner and, quite often, a Landscape Development Specialist, for review. These staff will assess and evaluate the application against the guidelines and provide comments to the Director of Planning.

Other departments and work groups

Engineering Services review all development applications for new construction, and most applications for additions and change of uses where the number of required parking spaces is affected.

Other departments, work groups and staff are consulted when necessary. These may include:

  • Area Planner
  • Heritage Planner
  • Industrial Lands Planner
  • City Drug Policy Coordinator
  • Social Planning
  • Housing Centre
  • Building Processing Centre
  • Fire & Rescue Services
  • Environmental Protection
  • Licences & Inspections
  • Legal Services
  • Police
  • Vancouver Coastal Health
  • Park Board

Advisory panels and groups

There are several advisory panels and groups that provide design advice to the Director of Planning, Development Permit Board and Council via staff.

  • The Urban Design Panel reviews all major or significant development applications, provides commentary on the urban design and makes recommendations to the Director of Planning (or the Development Permit Board). The panel's meetings are open to applicants as well as the general public.
  • Citizen Advisory Committees have been established for some areas of the City. These committees review development applications in their area and submit recommendations to the Director of Planning. Such committees include:
    • Chinatown Historic Area Planning Committee
    • First Shaughnessy Advisory Design Panel
    • Gastown Historic Area Planning Committee
  • The Vancouver Heritage Commission, a Council-appointed advisory group, provides feedback on applications involving designated heritage buildings or sites, or buildings that are listed on the Vancouver Heritage Register.
  • Citizen advisory committees are given the opportunity to comment on development applications in areas of the city where CityPlan “Visioning” or other community planning programs are occurring.

Site inspection

If necessary, staff will visit the site to evaluate:

  • Site condition (e.g., slope, access, location of power and utility poles)
  • Location and height of the subject building in relation to adjacent buildings (having regard for shadowing, privacy and views)
  • Condition of landscaping
  • Condition of parking in the immediate area

Neighbourhood notification and feedback

Staff will notify neighbouring property owners of a development application when there is deemed to be a potential impact on the neighbours or when by-law regulations dictate (typically when permitted increases to bylaw regulations are sought). Some of the factors that are considered include:

  • Privacy
  • Views
  • Shadowing
  • Traffic
  • Parking

By soliciting and receiving comments from neighbours, staff are better able to understand the effects of the development on its immediate surrounding, and thus, are able to take measures to address relevant concerns raised by requiring revisions to the proposal or by placing conditions on the approval. Regardless of whether a neighbourhood notification is carried out or not, staff will conduct a thorough evaluation of every application.

Notification is carried out by mailing letters or by requiring the applicant to post signs on the site, or a combination of both methods. Those people notified are given approximately two weeks to reply. Those neighbours who objected to the application are notified of the decision.

After all reviews have been completed and all notification responses have been summarized and evaluated, a decision on the application is made. An application may be approved, approved with conditions, or refused.

The decision is made by staff on behalf of the Director of Planning. City Council is not normally involved in the development permit process. However, Council committees are periodically informed about major development applications, and advise Council and the Development Permit Board or the Director of Planning in some cases.

The Director of Planning (or the Development Permit Board) will occasionally refer an application directly to Council for advice before making a decision where a policy matter is involved, or where a development proposal includes a Heritage Revitalization Agreement.

Appealing decisions to the Board of Variance

The Board of Variance is an independent appeal body. The Board decides on appeals regarding zoning, development permit, signage and tree bylaw matters. The same five members that make up the Board of Variance also make up the Parking Variance Board, which hears and decides upon appeals regarding off-street parking and loading.

An appeal of a decision made by the Director of Planning may only be submitted by the property owner (or agent acting on their behalf) who is seeking to develop or use their property. This appeal must be filed within 30 days of the date on which a development permit application is refused or 30 days of the date of the notification letter of development application approval, subject to the conditions to be satisfied prior to permit issuance.

To find out more about appeals and the appeal process, see the page Appealing decisions to the Board of Variance or Parking Variance Board.

Minor amendments

If you want to do something different from what is allowed by your development permit, you have to apply for a new permit unless the change is a minor one.

Applications for minor amendments are made in writing to the Director of Planning and must be accompanied by drawings that clearly identify the amendments. A detailed application submission checklist is available on the Application forms and checklists page, through the Enquiry Centre Phone Centre, or in person at the Enquiry Centre. Applications must be submitted in person at the Enquiry Centre.

Related bylaws

A development permit only provides approval in accordance with the regulations contained in the Zoning and Development Bylaw, various Official and Area Development Plan Bylaws and the Parking By-law.

If other City bylaws affect the development (such as the Building, Plumbing, Electrical, Sign, Protection of Trees or Licence Bylaws), you will have to apply for those permits separately. You apply for those other permits after you have received your development permit.

Learn about the Development Permit Board

Learn about the board's role, members, and meetings.

Read more

Learn about the Development Permit Board Advisory Panel

Learn about the Advisory Panel's role, members, meetings, and more.

Read more