Mark Fisher

Zoning rural properties not for the faint of heart

Mark Fisher breaks down the RDBN sub regions and what rural property owners are allowed to do

What can and cannot be done on rural properties is in regional districts’ (RD) zoning bylaws and is guided by regulations developed to manage growth and limit conflict. Unlike municipalities, RDs have several sub-regions (electoral areas) each with different objectives defined in their own Official Community Plan (OCP) and many properties that fall under Agriculture Land Reserve (ALR) legislation.

The RDBN website states that ‘zoning is the most important regulation used to manage the development of land and implement the goals and objectives of an Official Community Plan’ but multiple OCPs (seven in the RDBN) and ALR rules make it confusing, contradictory, and frustrating when trying to move rural projects forward.

Regional district staff, elected officials, and the website can clarify. They can help with permitting and with applications for rezoning, variances, and temporary use permits when plans do not align with current regulations. Applications are made to the RDBN but are forwarded to the Agriculture Land Commission when involving ALR land. Applications that go to the board of directors include recommendations for approval or denial from both staff and the Advisory Planning Commission (APC).

The APC is a group of rural residents who bring local knowledge, history, geography, etc. to the conversation. Electoral area directors are regularly invited to walk properties and discuss applications with property owners and neighbours. They also independently research issues and potential impacts to bring to the board when voting on whether or not to support the applications at ‘first and second reading’.

If an application is successful, there is a public hearing and further opportunity for new information to be introduced and presented to the board before final approval or denial.

Over the winter, many people are planning and thinking about logistics and building permits. People should also be thinking about fairness, consistency, neighbouring wells, and noise. While things like these may not always be clearly defined in applications, they are considered because of potential conflict. According to director of planning Jason Llewellyn, “Rural land use planning decisions involve consideration of many competing interests which can impact a community’s physical, economic, and social health and well-being.

The goals and objectives in the region’s official community plans are developed specifically … to provide direction on how to evaluate and manage these interests.

When asked specifically about Area A, he states there is a “focus on ensuring growth and development occurs in a manner that supports the “future viability of agriculture, the area’s diverse natural habitat, the world-class recreational opportunities, and the character of rural communities,” and that residents “are known for being protective of their quality of life and for being engaged in the decision-making process.”

Since this is just a taste of what is involved in land use planning, it will be the topic of future columns. For more information on land use in the rural areas, or your regional district in general go to or

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