Rezoning defined

(Updated Jan 2014) What does “rezoning” mean? Well, there’s the layperson’s definition, and then there’s the official definition (see below).

The simple definition would be “a process to amend the existing zoning for a property.” (Some properties have no zoning, and establishing zoning for them would be the verb “to zone.”) For a property with an existing zoning, the process to change the zoning would be “rezoning.” Zoning describes what can be built within a given zone, in terms of height of buildings, floor space (as a ratio of lot area), uses of the property, and other constraints.

A former City Councillor in Vancouver referred to zoning as a “social contract” between citizens and the local government. When the City Hall changes the zoning, it must be done with respect for all the stakeholder. Zoning for greater height and density is also equivalent to a license to print money — as it typically increases the value of property.

To some, zoning is like the rules of hockey. Rezoning is what happens when the elected government changes the rules on a specific site, to allow a special exception on that site, to change the rules of the game. In return for the increase in value of the property, the City often requires the owner to pay something in return, known as “community amenity contributions.” Developers also pay “Development Cost Levy” (DCL), supposedly to cover the additional costs to infrastructure (roads, sewers, etc.) and amenities (community centres, pools, etc.). Some experts say Vancouver doesn’t charge developers enough to recoup the costs of development, meaning that developers get off easy, while in the long term, taxpayers foot the bill for development. Our City’s officials (elected and employed) are supposed to look at what society loses and gets out of the deal, and make a fair decision.

Speakers at public hearings have pointed out that in granting a rezoning for increased height and density on a site, our elected officials are making a direct transfer of wealth — from individuals and from the community as a whole (through the loss of the tangible and intangible value of views, space, sunlight, etc.) to the proponent.  The bigger the increase, the bigger the transfer of wealth. Some people might challenge the judgement of our public servants, who over a career develop close relationships with the major property owners and developers in a city. And elected officials could also be in a conflict of interest, when rezoning proponents are also major political campaign contributors to help them get elected.

Strategies: As soon as you get any word of a rezoning or development being proposed here are some tips.

  1. Try to get as much information as you can.
  2. Talk to your neighbours to find out what others think about the project.
  3. Contact City staff to learn the full process from now until public hearing and approval.
  4. Find out what bodies are involved in the decision-making process until the final decision. In Vancouver, before the public hearing and rezoning, this means the Urban Design Panel, which comments on applications. Meetings are posted quietly online, so the general public needs to watch for the agendas, usually posted just a few days before the meeting. Attend. Record audio and video. Take notes, for later us. Get the official minutes of the meeting for reference.
  5. Seek help from experts for analysis of the application. Ask for help to wade through the jargon. Other community groups with experience might be able to help.
  6. Attend open houses where the design is presented. Provide comments.
  7. Talk to Mayor and Council about your concerns.
  8. Attend the public hearing or write to Mayor and Council.
  9. Follow up on later stages if the project is approved. This could include meetings of the Development Permit Board.
  10. If a major project has been approved, be assertive and organize the community to negotiate with the developer to minimize negative impacts from the construction process on your quality of life.

The City of Vancouver has a website on the rezoning process:

According to the city the definition is as follows:
What Is Rezoning?
Rezoning is the term used for any change to zoning by-laws and zoning district plans. All such changes are subject to approval by the City Council at a Public Hearing. Rezoning may occur in three ways:
1. To change the present zoning of a site to a Comprehensive Development District (CD-1). CD-1 zoning is tailor made to a specific site or area. It is intended for unique sites or areas or to accommodate special uses or forms of development which do not fit within a standard zoning district schedule. Council may establish certain conditions (e.g., legal agreements or other arrangements) that must be met prior to the enactment of the CD-1 By-law, and other conditions (usually pertaining to design) that must be met before the approval of the development application.
2. To change the present zoning of a site from one standard zoning district to another. The change in zoning from one district to another, e.g. from RS-1 to RS-5, is referred to as a ‘plan amendment’ and most often occurs as a result of an area rezoning to implement a Community Vision or related area planning program. There are rare instances when an individual property will be rezoned from one district to another, usually because of some anomaly in existing zoning boundaries, such as a split-zoned site, or some other unique feature.
3. To change the text of the Zoning and Development By-law or of an ODP, ADP or CD-1 By-law. A ‘text amendment’ is any change to permitted land uses or regulations in any district schedule, ODP, ADP or CD-1 by-law. A substantial alteration to an approved CD-1 form of development may also require an application to amend the regulations in the applicable CD-1 By-law.

All rezoning applications are reviewed by the Planning Department and are reported to City Council with a recommendation of support or refusal. City Council makes the decision either to approve the application or refuse it.

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