Promoting Smart Land Use

Local governments have the authority to create, adopt, and implement Plans, Policies, Projects, and Processes that shape community layout and form. These planning and policy tools can advance an agenda for smart land use and climate protection.


Getting Started: Three Considerations

  • Lead with key policies and plans. Local governments generally have key policies and plans that are the blueprints for the community's future development:  Regional Growth Strategy, Official Community Plan, Zoning Bylaw, Subdivision and Development Control Bylaw. Local governments can update these key plans and policies to exemplify the principles of a smart growth land use framework and climate change action, in a form that best fits their community.      
  • Make smart growth and climate change practical and rewarding. Opportunities include: developing guidelines for the desired form of buildings and performance standards (e.g. Development Permit Area Guidelines); encouraging new development to provide needed community amenities with density bonusing. And; providing fiscal incentives like variable development cost charges and tax exemptions.
  • Engage the community. People become invested in plans and policies that they help to create. Meaningfully engaging community stakeholders (residents, landowners, developers, interest groups) is a key opportunity to harness collective wisdom to create better plans and policies.  At the end of the day, community support and investment is essential in order to adopt and implement plans and policies.


Regional Growth Strategy

The purpose is "to promote human settlement that is socially, economically and environmentally healthy and that makes efficient use of public facilities and services" (Local Government Act ( (1)) in ways that: concentrate development; avoid sprawl; enhance future resilience; minimize the use of automobiles and encourage alternative modes; and plan for alternate energy sources and efficiency (Sec 849 (2) paraphrase).

Official Community Plan (including growth management), neighbourhood plans

The purpose of the Official Community Plan is to plan the location and type of land uses to meet future needs.  A key component is growth management - to determine where growth will be accommodated, with an opportunity to concentrate development in existing and contiguous areas.  The OCP is required to include targets and policies for GHG reduction.  The OCP identifies key policy areas that will be developed to implement the Plan, and ratifies areas of local government leadership like energy planning. Neighbourhood plans are an opportunity to develop policies at a more specific level of detail.

Financial Plan

Long term capital and operating planning are an opportunity to advance smart land use and climate change action, as well as improve local government fiscal performance.

Transportation Plans

Integrated transportation and land use planning processes establish smart land use patterns that support sustainable transportation modes.

Community Energy Plan

Sustainable energy goals can be included in the OCP.  Energy objectives can be further articulated in a single energy plan, and then integrated into other local government bylaws and policies, including: zoning, development permit guidelines, development cost charges, development checklists, density bonusing.






Development Permit Area Guidelines

The Local Government Act currently provides that an official community plan may designate areas for ecological protection, revitalization, form and character, energy and water conservation, and greenhouse gas reduction.  This is the main tool for articulating how development and design shall meet expectations for smart land use and climate change action at a site or neighbourhood level.  Development permit area guidelines may aim to achieve interaction among uses, creation of vibrant, people-friendly streets, and energy efficient site and building design.  

Zoning Bylaw

Key regulation for creating mixed uses, and for designating the concentration of development. A key tool for implementing the land use framework in the Official Community Plan. Controls lot size and shape, lot coverage, siting, parking requirements, which are factors in creating compact and efficient development. Include regulations for secondary suites, which are a valuable infill / intensification solution in lower density neighbourhoods without negative impact on character. Also consider allowing freehold row housing which provides unique addresses, street entry, and private yards similar to single family houses but at higher densities. 

Subdivision and Development Control Bylaw (including street design standards)

Opportunity to require efficient street design (including roads, sidewalks, boulevards, parking, bike lanes) that is attractive and suited to multiple modes of transportation.  Also an opportunity to save costs and increase resilience to climate change by combining infrastructure functions, like roads and stormwater management through features like swales.

Density Bonusing

The rezoning application process, which creates a lift in property value with more valuable permitted uses, is an opportunity to leverage community amenities in exchange for greater development density.   This can include energy efficiency.

Development Cost Charges

Charges can also be set to reflect the lower cost to local governments of buildings and developments that are more efficient or built in areas with existing infrastructure. For example, lower charges for development located in existing neighbourhoods and downtown commercial areas, smaller residential units, and new buildings that use water efficient techniques.

Fast Tracking of Development Applications

A speed incentive for development applications with site location and design that meets determined objectives of smart growth land use and climate change action (e.g. site in existing area, green building design, desired uses like employment).

Sustainability Checklists

A user-friendly means by which a local government can assess a potential development’s contribution to sustainability goals. The tool can be used to educate and to encourage development that meets a local government’s goals for smart land use and climate change action.




Sustainability Block

Instructive illustration of how climate change strategies and smart land use can actually take place at a micro-scale, and an opportunity for developing an effective partnership amongst a developer/landowner, a tenant and a local government.

Smart Neighbourhoods

The process is an opportunity to develop capacity for smart land use policies; lessons can be extended across the community.  The product, a neighbourhood plan, is a useful tool for implementing smart land use and climate action at a tangible neighbourhood scale.


These linear zones can meet multiple objectives such as recreational space, stormwater management, ecosystem protection, active transportation.

Downtown Revitalization

A significant undertaking that espouses the principles of smart growth land use by concentrating development in existing areas, mixing land uses, and developing a vibrant community.

Linking Land Use and Transportation

Sustainable land use and transportation policies and projects are integral to each other's success.   Also see Transportation Solutions




Community Engagement

Meaningful community engagement is an important process for creating land use plans that meet a community’s specific needs and character. Engaging the community can also raise individuals’ awareness and commitment to sustainability, through understanding how individual behaviours and lifestyle contribute to community goals and targets for sustainability.

Life Cycle Costing

Local government leadership is required in order to incorporate true long term costs into decision-making regarding development and service delivery. Such decisions have lasting impacts on the form of the community as well as its financial responsibilities.

Triple Bottom Line Evaluation

A shift away from the financial bottom line, toward an integrated social, economic and environmental bottom line can more fully inform decisions related to sustainable land use, GHG reduction and community well being.