A subdivision regulation is a planning tool that can be used to establish conditions for the protection against environmental hazards, e.g., coastal hazards related to sea-level rise.1 A subdivision is defined as a separate title of land (bare land strata lot, strata unit, townhouse, row house, or a condominium unit).2 The tool works in conjunction with zoning where the administrative responsibility of the subdivision of land is usually given to an Approving Officer who has the power to refuse or approve a subdivision plan.3 Subdivision regulation can be complementary to other development control measures. For example, development agreements may require a development to conform to design criteria to ensure public safety. Additionally, development agreements may require developers to demonstrate that a project is not harmful to ecologically sensitive areas.5

How it works

Types of subdivision regulation and development control

  • Cooperative association/shared interests derive authority from the Real Estate Development Marketing Act. It allows developers to sell shares in a landowning company
  • Fee simple subdivision relates to a land estate where the owner is entitled to the whole property including unconditional powers of disposition except where a limitation is outlined in another grant or disposition from the crown
  • Air space parcels relate to the ownership of the space below and above a parcel of land. Although the limits have not been clearly established in law, in BC, it is generally accepted by the courts that the rights to air space below and above land exist insofar as it is necessary for a landowner to ordinarily use and enjoy his or her property.
  • Strata apply where fee simple land is then subdivided into multiple units and where all unitholders have the right to use common elements. There are three types of strata, Bare land, Building, and Phased. 4


  • Empowers local governments with a legal mandate to enact bylaws to establish the conditions for the subdivision of land
  • Enables the protection of the public interest by separating political influence from the approval process. For example, an approving officer has the authority to refuse approval.
  • Enables the establishment of conditions for the regulation of future development. 1
  • Ensures the conformity of proposals for development to official plans and zoning regulations within a prescribed area. It also enables conformity with provincial regulations and policies 1


  • Could lead to less development because of the potential loss of value to developers. Hence, should be supported by guiding policy or strategies.
  • If coastal hazard areas are not clearly established, it may result in difficulty for an approving authority to decline a subdivision in coastal areas based on safety concerns.
  • The effectiveness of subdivision approval is contingent on the ability of those appointed to manage the process. This is because the approval process could be quite discretionary and subject to the prescribed scope of authority. 6

Example projects

Halifax Regional Municipality development agreements

Halifax Nova Scotia

In Halifax Nova Scotia, the Regional Municipality has included in the 2006 regional plan a provision for developments to be constructed with a minimum height that is above the ordinary high watermark. One of the other provisions of the plan is the inclusion of development agreements where areas are designated as zones require negotiations before development projects proceed. The terms and conditions for such negotiations are specified in local bylaws including consideration for a range of issues related to environmental protection. The process of negotiating a development agreement allows planners and developers to share information on wave activity and storm surges to inform resilient project designs. 5

Toronto’s Green Standard

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

The Toronto green standards outline a set of measures to regulate the site and building design, energy and water efficiency, ecological services and solid waste management, and air and water quality. The standards work in tandem with existing development approvals and processes for inspection. The green standards apply to subdivision and site controls for new development related to zoning amendments. The Toronto green standards are useful tools for addressing climate change concerns in the city of Toronto. For example, the standards mandate that new developments retain no less than 5 mm of rainwater for reuse. This helps to reduce stormwater runoff. 5


  1. 1.

    The Arlington Group Planning Architecture Inc., et al. Sea Level Rise Adaptation Primer. pp. 44. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/environment/climate-change/adaptation/resources/slr-primer.pdf

  2. 2.

    Ibid, 44.

  3. 3.

    Ibid, 44.

  4. 4.

    Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. British Columbia. (2020). Guide to Rural Subdivision Approvals. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/driving-and-transportation/funding-engagement-permits/subdividing-land/rural_subdivision_guide.pdf

  5. 5.

    Richardson, G.R.A. and Otero, J. (2012). Land use planning tools for local adaptation to climate change. Ottawa, Ont.: Government of Canada, 38 p.. https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/sites/www.nrcan.gc.ca/files/earthsciences/files/landuse-e.pdf

  6. 6.

    Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Ontario. (2020). Subdivisions. https://www.ontario.ca/document/citizens-guide-land-use-planning/subdivisions

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