Frequently Asked Questions
The information below is provided for general reference only. The CVRD makes no representations or warranties as to the accuracy or completeness of this information. Further, nothing on this page will supersede or relieve any person from compliance with applicable enactments, some of which may change without notice on this page. The CVRD strongly encourages interested persons to raise issues with it and to obtain independent professional advice.
- What is zoning?
Zoning is a land management tool used by local governments to separate uses. Each of the nine Electoral Areas has a Zoning Bylaw with regulations specific for each zone, including; use, density and siting (e.g. setbacks). Permitted uses are identified for each zone additionally, each Zoning Bylaw is equipped with a section on definitions and general regulations. The CVRD web map can help you quickly determine what your property is zoned. For more information on how to use the Web Map see "What is the Web Map and how do I use it?"
- What is the Web Map and how do I use it?
The online Web Map allows anyone to search their property and find important information like zoning, OCP designations, development permit areas, service areas and more. To use the Web Map simply go to the Web Map and click on desktop icon (see image #1). From there a disclaimer statement will appear, click 'accept'. The map will launch and show the entire Regional District. To find your property you can either search by scrolling in and navigating to it, or use the address tool or parcel identifier (PID) for bare land (see image #2). Once you have found the property, use the 'identify tool' (top left - see image #3) by clicking on the tool and then on the property. By doing this, information should populate on the left side. From there you can click on any of the items shown in that list for more information. Links to other relevant bylaws are also provided (see image #4).
- What is a Riparian Area?
Riparian areas can be defined as the area of land adjacent to a watercourse or body of water, a ditch, spring or wetland, whether or not usually containing water (see image below). The entire CVRD is within a Riparian Protection Development Permit Area (DPA) which means certain activities will require a development permit application prior to a building permit. It is the responsibility of individual property owner(s) to ensure there are no activities in the riparian area, or apply for a development permit. For more information on the Provincial regulation, please click here. For more information specific to CVRD requirements see pages 18 - 24 here.
- What is subdivision?
Subdivision is the process of altering legal property boundaries. It usually involves the dividing of a property into smaller lots. It can also include the realignment of existing property lines or the consolidation of two or more lots into a single lot. To subdivide land within an Electoral Area of the CVRD an applicant must apply to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI). A Provincial approving officer, appointed by the B.C. government, approves subdivision plans in regional district electoral areas after all requirements are met. The CVRD is referred the application from the Ministry and considers minimum parcel size (found in each of the 8 zoning bylaws), and development permit requirements (found in the Official Community Plan).
The following are types of subdivisions where approval of the Approving Officer is required:
- Adjusting lot boundaries between two or more lots (commonly known as boundary adjustment or lot line adjustment);
- Creating several new lots from one or more lots;
- Creating lots in a bare land strata development;
- Creating strata lots through a phased strata plan;
- Subdivision of land the purpose of leasing for a term longer than 3 years; and
- Air space parcel subdivisions
- Can I subdivide?
Minimum parcel sizes and subdivision regulations are determined in the Zoning Bylaw (please note that each electoral area may have their own zoning bylaw, and each zone within the bylaw has its own minimum parcel size). Minimum parcel sizes depend on the level of servicing (e.g. community water and sewer services) - typically, the minimum parcel size will decrease as the level of servicing on a property increases. For example, a lot that is on well and septic will have a larger minimum parcel size than a lot that is serviced by community water and sewer. To determine if your property is, or can be, serviced with community water and/or sewer, please consult the Web Map and ensure the 'Utility' layers are checked on.
In addition, to the minimum parcel size, general subdivision regulations also apply. These refer to the subdivision of lots severed by a road, another parcel or jurisdictional boundary; boundary adjustments/parcel realignments; subdivision of parcels containing a water body, watercourse or wetland; panhandle parcels etc. Note: each zoning bylaw contains its own general subdivision regulations and it is important to know which electoral area your parcel is within.
- What is an accessory dwelling unit?
An accessory dwelling unit, also known as granny suite, separate suite, small suite or carriage house, is a smaller house located on the same lot as a single-family dwelling. The building can be purpose built or may be a conversion of/or to an existing garage or accessory building. The maximum permitted size of these units varies across electoral areas and can be found in the applicable Zoning Bylaw.
- Can I have an accessory dwelling unit?
Accessory dwelling units are allowed in many zones throughout the CVRD (with the exception of Area G). This specific use, however, depends on the size of the property and the level of servicing. To find out if your zoning allows an accessory dwelling unit first check the specific zone in the zoning bylaw, then confirm the size of your property meets the minimum parcel size required depending on its level of servicing. Not sure what your zoning is? Check out our Web Map! Please make sure to check with the Building Department for code and permit requirements prior to undertaking any work.
- What is a secondary suite?
A secondary suite is a self-contained residential unit within a home. They can be located in a basement of a dwelling or attached at ground level to the dwelling. The CVRD zoning bylaws for each electoral area regulates the maximum size of the secondary suite and do vary by electoral area. Always consider the specific zone, general regulations and definitions when determining eligibility for a secondary suite. To find out if your zoning allows a secondary suite on your property, first check the specific zone in the zoning bylaw, then confirm the size of your property meets the minimum parcel size required depending on its level of servicing. Not sure what your zoning is? Check out our Web Map!
- Can I have a secondary suite in my home?
Secondary suites are permitted in many residential zones throughout the CVRD. This specific use, however, depends on the size of the property and its level of servicing (e.g. connection to water and sewer). To find out if your zoning allows a secondary suite on your property, first check the specific zone in the zoning bylaw, then confirm the size of your property meets the minimum parcel size required depending on its level of servicing. Not sure what your zoning is? Check out our Web Map!
- What is an Official Community Plan?
The Official Community Plan describes the long-term vision of the nine Electoral Areas that make up the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD). The plan includes objectives and policies that guide decisions on planning and land use management which impact our communities' sustainability and resilience. Regional Districts have the authority to develop official community plans under the Local Government Act.
After the adoption of an official community plan, all bylaws enacted or works undertaken by the Regional District must be consistent with the plan. However, the official community plan does not require the local government to proceed with any works or projects mentioned in the plan. Official community plans must include certain plan statements and map designations and may also contain optional policy statements and development permit area designations. Other federal and B.C. government guidelines and requirements may influence the content of an official community plan.
If a local government chooses to prepare and adopt an official community plan, it must have statements and map designations for:
- Residential development required to meet anticipated housing needs over a period of at least five years
- Present and proposed commercial, industrial, institutional, agricultural, recreational and public utility land uses
- Present and proposed public facilities, including schools, parks and waste treatment and disposal sites
- Sand and gravel deposits that are suitable for future sand and gravel extraction
- Phasing of any major road, sewer and water systems
- Restrictions on the use of land that is subject to hazardous conditions or that is environmentally sensitive to development
Frequently Used Terms
Advisory Planning Commission
The Advisory Planning Commission (APC) is an independent body of local residents appointed by the CVRD Board. Each Electoral Area has their own APC. The APCs consider proposed land use development and offer recommendations to the Electoral Area Services Committee. The APC does not have decision making authority.
Agricultural Land Commission
The Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) is an independent tribunal dedicated to preserving agricultural land and enabling farming. Farming is encouraged through the Agricultural Land Commission Act and non-agricultural uses are restricted. For more information on the ALC visit here.
Agricultural Land Reserve
The Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) is a provincial zone in which agriculture is recognized as the priority use. Farming is encouraged and non-agricultural uses are restricted.
The CVRD Board is the governing body of the CVRD. It is comprised of members of the Electoral Area Services Committee (EASC) as well as representatives from each of the four municipalities within the geographic boundaries of the CVRD, they include; the Town of Lake Cowichan, the Town of Ladysmith, the Municipality of North Cowichan and the City of Duncan. The four municipalities do not vote on development applications. The Board's role is to consider the EASC recommendation and pass a resolution.
Development Permit Area
Development Permit Area's (DPA's) are specified areas, identified in the Official Community Plan, that need special treatment for certain purposes including the protection of development from hazards, establishing objectives for form and character in specified circumstances, or revitalization of a commercial use area. Local governments may designate areas of land as development permit areas to be used for one or more of the following purposes:
- The natural environment, its ecosystems and biological diversity
- Development from hazardous conditions
- Revitalization of an area in which a commercial use is permitted
- Energy conservation
- Water conservation
- Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions
The Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD) is comprised of nine Electoral Areas (see map here). The CVRD is responsible for managing growth and development in the nine Electoral Areas and providing services. Each area is identified separately by letters in the alphabet, and represented by a board comprised of locally elected directors.
Electoral Area Services Committee (EASC)
The Electoral Area Services Committee (EASC) is made up of nine elected officials, representing the nine electoral areas of the CVRD. Development applications are first presented to the EASC for consideration. The role of the EASC is to make a recommendation to the CVRD Board on the development application.
Official Community Plan
The Official Community Plan for the Electoral Areas (OCP) sets objectives and policies for future growth and development in the community. The OCP establishes a variety of land use designations including; residential, industrial, commercial, agricultural and institutional. The OCP outlines when these uses are needed and provides policy direction on how, when and where each land use will be located. To learn more about the OCP for the Electoral Areas visit here.
Each Electoral Area has its own zoning bylaw, with the exception of Areas A and C who share one. A zoning bylaw regulates how and where land, buildings and other structures may be used. The zoning bylaws divide land into 'zones', including; residential, industrial, commercial, agricultural and institutional. Each zone then defines what uses are permitted. Where a use is not expressly permitted in the Bylaw, it is prohibited. Each zone will also provide 'conditions of use' including setbacks, height limits and permitted density. To learn more about zoning bylaws visit here.