Development permits regulate land use to ensure that areas are developed in a manner that aligns with environmental protection and the protection of ecosystems, biodiversity. 12 Development permits may also be used to protect a development from hazardous conditions. A Development Permit Area (DPA) may restrict development in areas except for any conditions also included in the permit.1 A DPA may also identify lands that are prone to coastal hazards so that these hazards can be addressed before the development of the land.2 Implementation of a development permit requires the designation of a DPA by the Official Community Plan which includes an amending bylaw and public hearing and approval by the local government.3 Challenges can occur if the background studies of hazards and environmentally sensitive areas are not well justified.4

How it works

Types of development permits

  • Riparian protection development permits are necessary for activities and development located with a riparian area of a wetland or a watercourse with fishes. A riparian area refers to the land or vegetation near a watercourse. 15
  • Geotechnical hazard development permits are required for development in areas that are susceptible to geotechnical failures, e.g., landslides, and rolling rocks. Geotechnical hazards may be defined based on characteristics such as slope steepness. 16
  • Floodplain development permits are required for development within a special flood hazard area. The permit is used to ensure that development is undertaken in accordance with a floodplain management ordinance. 17
  • Shoreline development permits seek to protect the resources and ecology of a shoreline or watercourse. A substantial development permit may be required for construction within 200 feet of a lake, river, or stream where the value of the construction exceed a market value threshold 18


  • Enables the assessment of impacts of a proposed development to identify mitigation or conservation strategies to determine if a discretionary use should be permitted
  • Enables municipalities to impose development permit conditions that promote environmentally sustainable development
  • Allows the imposition of ongoing conditions, e.g., periodic monitoring requirements that are considered necessary for the protection of the natural environment, public health, and safety. 13
  • Replaces site-specific planning with a more regional and visionary approach 14


  • Preparing background studies of hazards and environmentally sensitive areas to justify the development permit areas is resource-intensive
  • May lead to upzoning, i.e., a development that departs from what conforms to the wishes of the community
  • May lead to the removal of third-party rights to consult and appeal but retention of the applicant’s rights to appeal.
  • May remove final authority for approval from public representatives and repose such authority in the hands of planning staff 14

Example projects

California Coastal Commission SLR Policy


In 2015, the California Coastal Commission in its Sea Level Rise Policy decided that all development in coastal areas should obtain a Coastal Development Permit (CDP).5 Generally, land use applications in locations that are susceptible to inundation, flooding, wave impacts, erosion, or saltwater intrusion require a review to determine the effects of sea-level rise.6 The policy lists general conditions where sea level rise should be considered in the analysis of an application including; location in a floodplain, exposure to flooding or erosion, existing flood protection, proximity to sensitive ecosystems, and water supply requirements.7 Also, an application for a proposed project is required to identify design alternatives that avoid or minimizes the effects of sea-level rise before the submission of a final project design and the CDP application itself.8

Sidney’s Interim FCL Policy

Sidney BC, Canada

In 2018, the incorporation of sea-level rise into the determination of building setbacks and flood construction levels (FCL) in coastal areas was adopted in the Province of British Columbia Flood Hazard Area Land Use Management Guidelines.9 The Sidney Interim Flood Construction Level Policy was implemented to ensure that all new development is built to address sea-level rise and to ensure that all building and development permit applicants include a report and Flood Assurance Statement from a qualified engineer.10 The report should be submitted to the Town and accepted before the acquisition of a permit. This process serves to inform future owners of the property’s susceptibility to flooding and to remove culpability from the Town of Sidney.11


  1. 1.

    The Arlington Group Planning Architecture Inc., et al. Sea Level Rise Adaptation Primer. pp. 46.

  2. 2.

    Ibid, 46.

  3. 3.

    Ibid, 47.

  4. 4.

    Ibid, 47.

  5. 5.

    California Coastal Commission Sea Level Rise Policy Guidance. 12 Aug. 2015, pp. 98.

  6. 6.

    Ibid, 98.

  7. 7.

    Ibid, 99.

  8. 8.

    Ibid, 110.

  9. 9.

    Interim Flood Construction Level. Town of Sidney, Services/Policies/DV-014 Interim Flood Construction Level.pdf.

  10. 10.


  11. 11.


  12. 12.

    Squamish Lillooet (n.d). A GUIDE TO DEVELOPMENT PERMITS

  13. 13.

    Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (2008). Development Permit System: A Handbook for Municipal Implementation

  14. 14.

    CORRA. (2014). LAND DEVELOPMENT & PLANNING FORUM (2014). Development Permit System: Breaking the Mold?

  15. 15.

    City of Prince George. (2013). Riparian Protection Development Permits A Guide through the Process.

  16. 16.

    Cariboo Regional District. (n.d). DEVELOPMENT PERMITS QUESNEL FRINGE GEOTECHNICAL HAZARD Development Services Guide.

  17. 17.

    FEMA. (2020). Permit for Floodplain Development.

  18. 18.

    King County. (2020). Shorelines. The Department of Local Services, Permitting Division.

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