A Green OCP

These notes are adapted from these three documents:

An Official Community Plan (OCP) is a legal policy document intended to manage growth and guide future development. It represents the communi­ty’s vision for the future. The Local Government Act defines an OCP as “a statement of objectives and policies to guide decisions on planning and land use management.” 

An OCP typically contains broad goals, objectives for particular land uses, specific policies for each land use, general advocacy policies, maps and development permit areas. 

  • Goals are general statements of purpose
  • Objectives are strategies to achieve the goals
  • Policies are specific statements, programs or restrictions that provide direction

An OCP is not a regulatory bylaw. With the exception of Development Permit Areas, OCPs have no direct effect or authority on private landowners or other governments or agencies. Land Use Bylaws regulate the use of land.

To protect the Coastal Douglas-fir, OCPs should set goals, objectives, and policies that support CDF retention and protection, include strong language directing at protection of the CDF zone:

  • Policies supporting park dedication that protect CDF forests 
  • Development Permit Areas for the protection of the envi­ronment, specifically the Coastal Douglas-fir zone and associated ecosystems.
  • Urban containment boundaries that preserve large lot areas outside of urban areas and direct density to areas zoned for mixed use commercial/residential and smaller lots that can be serviced by adequate water supplies. 
  • Identified protection of the CDF zone as an amenity that can be provided at the time of a rezoning. Establish the connection between development impacts and ecological services.
  • Enabling policies for conservation subdivisions, amenity zoning, density transfers and density bonusing. 
  • Language and policies that reference and honour the cultural heritage of Coast Salish stewardship, including the protection of culturally important places and archaeological sites.

Galiano’s OCP includes the following Forest Objectives: 

All land use decisions for lands in the Forest designation must be guided by the following objectives: 

  1. to preserve a forest land base,
  2. to preserve and protect the forest, its biodiversity, integrity and ecological services, 
  3.  to encourage ecosystem-based sustainable forest management for all forested lots and to encourage economic opportunities through this forest management practice, 
  4. to encourage ecological restoration of degraded forest stands, and
  5. to maintain or enhance carbon storage and sequestration. 

Suggested prose based on Galiano’s OCP: “This Plan supports the preservation and protection of the CVRD’s many and varied ecosystems, including the Coastal Douglas-fir biogeoclimatic zone, the smallest and rarest such zone in British Columbia with the highest density of species that are of both provincial and global conservation concern. These ecosystems provide key services that sustain human health and wellbeing, including clean air and water, nutrient cycling, carbon storage, and timber and nontimber resources. The forested landscape is integral to the CVRD’s character. Maintaining and restoring the forest ecosystem is critical for ecosystem-based sustainable forest management.”

South Pender Island’s OCP notes that the island is located in a threatened CDF ecosystem: “Protection is to be afforded to the island’s environmentally sensitive areas, according to particular circumstance, by means that may include: landowner stewardship; inter-agency planning  and management agreements; protective covenants, voluntary and required; protective provisions in regulatory bylaws; development permit areas; and land acquisition.” 

Land-Use By-Laws

The Land Use Bylaw is the main tool for implementing OCP policies through land use regulations, particularly zoning. Land use bylaws designate the zoning and regulate land use within the area of covered by the bylaw. They contain regulations on the size and siting of buildings and structures and define setbacks from lot lines and water courses. The land use bylaw prescribes the number of new lots, and the shape, dimensions and area of new lots created by subdivision. A land use bylaw often incorporates parking regulations, subdivision servicing requirements, sign regulations, screening and landscaping requirements, flood plain regulations, and run-off control regulations. 

  • Reduce site coverage density in land use bylaws. It is often a default 25%, inherited from older zoning, allowing 25% of the land to be covered with impervious surfaces. Site coverage is often overlooked when updating land use bylaws. High site coverage is inconsis­tent with the preservation of the CDF zone. 
  • Incorporate conservation subdivision principles into land use bylaw requirements for subdivision. 
  • Increase the minimum average area of lots that can be created by subdivision to a minimum of 10 acres. Remove subdivision potential from some large lots in areas targeted as important for CDF protec­tion and hydrological connectivity. 
  • Negotiate land conservation at the time of rezoning. Make consideration of zoning approvals conditional on the voluntary provision of a covenant or land donation to protect the CDF forest as a public amenity. 
  • Pre-zone land to allow an increase in density in exchange for natural area protection. Unlike amenity zoning, density bonus bylaws offer developers and the community certainty; a rezoning process is not required, and the maximum potential density is known ahead of time. 
  • Residential lots or dwelling units can be clustered during rezoning or at time of subdivi­sion. Land use bylaw density requirements should have minimum average lot area provisions that allow smaller lot areas while limiting the number of lots that can be created. When homes or lots are clustered, the rest can be left as natural area. Clustering reduces development costs as there are fewer trees to clear, less land to grade, and less need for road, water, hydro, and sewer infrastructure. Smaller lots with significant amounts (more than 50%) of protected open space target people who want homes in natural settings with less property to maintain.
  • Conservation subdivisions combine different tools including amenity zoning or density bonuses at time of rezoning to achieve multiple environmental and social benefits. Lot clustering is combined or traded off with protection of large natural areas (often by means of a covenant). Land use bylaw provisions allow lot averaging to achieve the cluster­ing, ecological design lot layout requirements, landscape buffers, and remove the potential for further subdivision. 

Forest Management

The Province does not have legislation that directly regulates forestry on private land. Forestry is exempt from local government regulation and there are few tools to use to protect the integrity of the forest from timber extraction. 

Forestry cannot be regulated by local governments. A longstanding common law principle known as profit à prendre entrenches the rights of people to extract profit from the natural resources of the land. Common law land ownership is typically characterized as a bundle of rights. These rights include the rights to use and occupy the land free from interference of non-owners, as well as the right to take or sever minerals, soil, trees and other resources from the land. 

This principle was referenced in the reasons for decisions concluding that the Denman Island Local Trust Committee reached beyond its authority in its attempt to regulate forest practices on private land using a Development Permit Area. The BC Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal ruled that the DPA was not broad enough to allow the Trust Committee to regulate forestry, in part because the enabling legislation did not indicate a clear intention to curtail or interfere with the common law right to extract timber. As common law, profit à prendre is not found in statute. It rep­resents deeply held social constructs that favour the rights of individuals to exploit natural resources on private property. Even if societal attitudes towards the best use of land were to shift, it would likely take an act of the legislature rather than a court decision to overturn this principle.

On the other hand, the ability of local governments to prevent logging within riparian zones on private land has already been accepted. So maybe profit à prendre is not such a strong argument, after all.

Twelve Recommendations for Official Community Plans

1. Acknowledge Growth Management as an Important Environmental Protection Tool 

Many OCPs and topic-specific plans such as greenway or park plans address connectivity and site-specific environmental protection but fail to put them in the larger and more important context of growth management. A tightly delineated urban area with strong growth management policies that direct a large percentage, such as 90%, of new development into urbanized areas as well as large lot rural policies are better environmental protection measures than site specific regulations such as tree preservation. While both are important, the big picture should be the first order of priority. This includes linking specific policies to the relevant regional growth strategy. 

2. Connect Biodiversity and Ecologically Sensitive Areas 

It is well accepted that substantial corridors of biodiversity or ecosystem connectivity preserve ecological function better than islands of habitat. The ecological value of open space and parkland is significantly increased when it is connected to other areas of ecological significance. Biodiversity corridors, greenways with ecological values, and other connectivity must be planned before other land uses are layered onto the landscape. 

3. Establish Criteria for Evaluating if New Greenfield Development is Needed 

Decisions about allowing new development at the periphery of a community on greenfield sites rarely occurs in the context of whether that unserviced land is needed to fulfill growth management goals. It is often seen as an opportunity for new residential or commercial development without considering the direct link between density and environmental stewardship. Prioritizing ecological conservation means establishing a standard of buildout that should occur before a community-wide discussion considers designating further greenfield sites for servicing. Such a standard could be based on one of the following: 

  • Density – the average density in existing built areas must be 1:1 or 1.5:1; 
  • Infrastructure – existing wastewater treatment capacity is allocated to new developments in the following proportions: attached housing 50 percent, commercial and industrial 30 percent, detached housing 20 percent; 
  • Building permits – the percentage of total residential building permits must be 50 percent attached (townhouse to apartments); or 
  • Demographic – the types of development over the past five years meet certain criteria that respond to the existing demographic of the community, e.g. 15 percent supported housing, 50 percent attached housing, 20 percent detached housing and 15 percent commercial/industrial. 

4. Do Away with “Residential Reserves” or “Urban Reserves” 

Community plans sometimes identify residential or urban “reserves.” The intent is to identify areas or parcels where there is potential for future development that is not anticipated within the life of the current plan. These designations send the signal that the policies supporting infill and building in existing serviced areas are not firm growth management policies. Likewise, plans do not establish a benchmark for evaluating when existing residential areas are built out to the extent that it would be appropriate to consider urbanizing additional parcels. The identification of these residential reserve parcels lessens the incentive to fully build out existing urban areas and make the best use of infrastructure, thus there is no clear phasing for growth or encouragement to build in existing areas. If population growth projections do not indicate a need for these parcels in the next five years then leave them out of the community plan. 

5. Do Not Use Small Lot Rural or Small Holdings Land Designations 

Residential policies for small holdings are inconsistent with growth management goals, smart growth and sustainability. Generally, they are essentially rural sprawl. Parcels of 0.8 to 2 hectares are predominantly rural residential. They are not large enough to sustain agricultural or other land-based economic activities and significantly fragment the green infrastructure because of the large amount of each parcel that is dedicated to buildings, driveways and residential landscaping (primarily lawn). Concentrations of these parcels near to sensitive ecosystems increase the likelihood of pollution due to septic system failures and runoff from impervious surfaces. In short, they are an outdated land designation that is yielding to hard urban and rural designations. Large holdings of 5 hectares or more in size are more consistent with rural densities where the landscape is largely intact and parcels maintained for resource or agricultural uses rather than hobby farms or rural residential. 

6. Cluster Development Away from Functioning Ecosystems 

Any new development has the opportunity to cluster new development to protect biodiversity corridors and ecological features, even if on private land. Clustering is used in both urban and rural areas to strictly limit the footprint of development across the landscape with the intention of maintaining designated ecosystem services. These services (riparian corridors, greenways, and sensitive ecosystems) should be included in OCPs as clear designations where development will not occur. Development can be clustered away from these sites. 

7. Clarify the Boundaries of Any Amenity (Density) Bonus Program 

Whether for rural or urban areas, amenity bonus can assist local governments to achieve goals for community amenity provision, in particular the donation of parkland. However, the majority of local government plans say very little about the parameters of amenity bonus. At minimum, community plans should address three factors to promote understanding of amenity bonus. The first is to define the maximum uplift that a local government will allow in defined neighbourhoods or under a specific zoning. For example, thirty percent uplift over base zoning may be appropriate if other criteria are met. This allows the amount of the bonus to be discussed beforehand with the community and will likely be different for downtown versus rural areas. The second is a list of priority amenities on a neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood or municipal-wide basis so that each neighbourhood is receiving the appropriate amenity contributions. Thirdly, a clear formula is required for calculating the value of the uplift in density and the value of the amenities provided in return. Developers who opt into the amenity bonus program should be providing 50-60 percent of the increase in land value to the community in the form of amenities. Local governments may consider including in the list of community amenities “extraordinary environmental protection measures.” See the Denman Island Official Community Plan treatment of amenity bonus. 

8. Plan for Water 

Water is clearly an important issue for all communities and will become more critical in the next decades as climate change alters how ecosystems function. There will be more water in undesired places and less water in desired locations. Community plans traditionally have focused on establishing policies for land use but are changing to include planning for water management and establishing policies to develop long-term water demand management programs. Water will become more important than land use, and community plans are beginning to reflect this reality. 

9. Define Development Permit Areas for Protection of the Natural Environment by Using the Provincial Government’s Sensitive and Other Ecosystems Map Codes and Descriptions 

The trend for local governments in BC is to define ESAs based on the provincial government’s approved sensitive and other ecosystem map codes and descriptions. This provides a province-wide definition for different ESAs, and allows local governments to tailor environmental DPA (EDPA) guidelines to the specific needs of each particular ecosystem-type such as subsections on riparian or watercourse protection, wetlands, grasslands, woodland, mature forest, and other ecosystem types unique to the region. Some general guidelines can apply to all ecosystem types to deal with water and water quality, air and air quality, species at risk, and agriculture and ESAs. 

10. Create and Track Environmental Indicators 

Indicators can target a specific policy, or be a community-wide indicator of climate impact and ecological health. The following are strong indicators: 

  • Decrease or increase in per capita greenhouse gas emissions
  • Decrease or increase in land-based carbon storage
  • Decrease or increase of land in the Agricultural Land Reserve 
  • Decrease or increase of healthy riparian ecosystems 
  • Decrease or increase in the area of undisturbed contiguous forest
  • Species at risk that are protected or lost 
  • Water quality at specific sites in designated creeks or watersheds – fecal coliform, phosphorus, turbidity
  • Water flow-rates at specific wells in designated high risk areas
  • Number of trips taken by foot, bicycle, or other non-motorized means 
  • Percentage of residents living within 500 metres of a shopping centre 
  • Kilometres of trails, bicycle paths, sidewalks and roads per capita
  • Decrease or increase in per capita solid waste disposal.

11. Create Ways to Enable Farmers to Live on Farm Land 

  • Designate areas for clustered housing on land zoned agricultural on condition that:
  • The chosen land is low-fertility
  • The homes are limited in size
  • The homes are self-sufficient in water through rainwater harvesting
  • There are bylaws and other conditions requiring the  residents to obtain half of their income from farming or farm-related products.

12. Create Ways to Protect the Forest

Map areas where the Coastal Douglas Fir ecosystem needs to be protected, and develop tools to protect it:

  • Establish CDF Development Permit Areas that require buffer zones and permitting before development can proceed.
  • Designate standards for the clustering of buildings.
  • Define the permitted area of a forest that can be cleared for fire safety purposes and firewood gathering.
  • Define the permitted size of a canopy opening that is allowed for the pursuit of ecological forestry.

Produced by the Yellow Point Ecological Society

January 2020

Author: yellowpointecologicalsociety

We are a non-profit society. We work to understand, appreciate, protect and restore the ecosystems and watersheds in the Yellow Point area of Vancouver Island and to inspire and support local residents and visitors to do the same.

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