What goes where?

A city’s land use bylaw reveals how it thinks about growth.

Cities are always changing. So are the regulations that govern them.

In Calgary, these documents include high-level policies like the Municipal Development Plan and the Calgary Transportation Plan. These establish broad guidelines and ambitious goals for future growth. But the nitty-gritty details are left to hard-working bylaws.

These take a granular approach to the business of city-building. A key piece of how municipalities manage growth is the land use bylaw. These tend to be dry reading, but important documents. They regulate what can be built where. That means the bylaw affects every resident and business. and they have big implications for everything from growth to parking to the affordability of housing.

It’s no surprise, then, that reviewing and rewriting a land use bylaw is a detailed process. The Town of Cochrane and the City of Calgary are currently doing that.  Cochrane’s bylaw dates from 2004. Since then, the town has seen rapid growth as its population more than doubled. 

The review has many moving parts. These include introducing regulations for infill construction and maybe even zero lot-line homes. The latter refers to a house that is built close to one property line, allowing for a larger home on the lot. The discussion gets pretty detailed, but the overarching goal of the review is to meet the “needs of our residents while reflecting Cochrane’s unique character.” 

Calgary’s land use bylaw came into effect in 2008. Since then, it has seen more than 100 amendments. These are big and small, but they serve as proof that land use bylaws are always evolving.

This is true across North America. Minneapolis recently abolished single-family zoning, This opens the way for duplexes and triplexes and addresses the missing middleOregon recently made a similar move. Seattle has made it easier to build garage apartments and secondary suites.

All these moves seek to make housing affordable, settle people in established areas and allow citizens to age in place. And they’re all accomplished through changes to the land use bylaw. They may be dry, but those documents are also essential urban reading

November 20th, 2019

How land gets used is a crucial—and contentious— issue for cities.