Taking Advantage of a Versatile Policy Tool

There are some key implementation considerations in applying DPAs to address climate change priorities.  A DPA is a versatile design tool that can be applied to land use, buildings and transportation.

Key Implementation Considerations

In setting guidelines for a DPA, a local government may not require buildings to meet standards that exceed a local government's authority over building standards. However, local governments may encourage green building standards by indicating they are desirable.



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For most DPAs, the scope of authority does not include single family dwellings. However, Bill 27 - Local Government(Green Communities) Statutes Amendment Act, 2008 - allows for DPAs that promote energy and water conservation, and reduce greenhouse gases at the single family dwelling level. The scope of this legislation includes:

  • landscaping
  • siting of buildings
  • form and exterior of buildings
  • specific features in the development
  • machinery, equipment and systems that are external to buildings.

See Buildings for some of these opportunities.

Read more about Bill 27 - Local Government(Green Communities) Statutes Amendment Act, 2008 - here.

DPAs and Measuring Performance

Bill 27 - Local Government(Green Communities) Statutes Amendment Act, 2008 -  requires Local Governments to develop targets for GHG emission reductions and report on progress. Local Governments can tailor DPA guidelines so that development will contribute to specific measurable targets for the community.  

A component of the community-led Smart Growth on the Ground process is to develop design instructions for the creation of a neighbourhood concept plan.  The design instructions are based on smart growth principles, and include related priority goals with specific targets to be achieved when the designed plan becomes a reality.

Process of Creating DPAs

DPAs can be created during an Official Community Plan and/or a Neighbourhood Plan process.  Continuity and support between the policies, land use designations, and DPAs creates a robust planning framework.   

Land Use Opportunities

Compact and Complete Neighbourhoods

Sketch shows preferred exterior design of secondary suites. / City of New Westminster.DPA guidelines define the form and character of new developments, with the following applications:

  • areas of intensive residential development (e.g. small lot areas, infill areas)
  • mixed use development
  • multiple family residential development
  • commercial areas   

DPA guidelines develop continuity and set parameters for performance of new developments. DPA guidelines are not intended to foster monotony or uniformity in design.

Good planning and design-including DPA guidelines-are the foundation for creating compact communities where people want to live.  Success requires deliberate planning for the mix and density of land use, and design is of utmost importance:   "How we perceive density has everything to do with how it is designed, not the actual ratio of units to acres," according to the Lincoln Institute [7].

See Case studies in Development Permit Areas for Climate Action:

DPAs are essential in guiding new development that will be supported by residents and fit in with the character of existing neighbourhoods.

Environmental Areas and Agricultural Lands

To maximize the benefits of compact and complete communities that concentrate growth, DPAs can be used to protect ecologically significant areas, natural hazards, and agricultural land - objectives that increase resilience to climate change and enhance carbon sequestered in soils and forests.

Section 920 of the Local Government Act specifies these conditions.

Building Opportunities

DPA guidelines for green buildings have the positive effect of encouraging innovation.  The DPA guidelines set out design expectations early in the approvals process, ideally, well before the detailed building design phase. The up-front cost of a green building is often only two percent higher than conventional building, and is due to longer timelines for architects and engineers to integrate sustainable building processes.  Despite a lifetime of paybacks, this initial cost is a major barrier. In general, the earlier the 'green' component is incorporated, the lower the cost to make it happen. [8]  

In setting guidelines for a DPA, a local government cannot require buildings to meet standards that exceed a local government's authority over building standards. However, local governments may encourage green building standards by indicating they are desirable. For example, the DPA guidelines for the Dockside Green project in Victoria indicate that LEED standards are a "should" whereas other DPA guidelines are stipulated as mandatory elements.  A separate master development agreement was negotiated by the City and the Dockside developer for LEED Silver standard. [1]

Two types of DPAs can be created and implemented for green building requirements (for more information, see Key Implementation Considerations, (above) and the Local Government Act and Bill 27 - Local Government(Green Communities) Statutes Amendment Act, 2008 .

DPAs for form and character of development.

Building design guidelines that advance climate change action include:

  • glazing and orientation for solar energy gain
  • landscaping that requires less water
  • drainage by infiltration, maximizing pervious surfaces on the site
  • natural ventilation (to reduce cooling loads) [4]


  • Equilibrium: Healthy Housing For a Healthy Environment  (Canada Mortgage and Housing Association)  - This initiative develops on the ground prototypes of houses whose ultimate goal is a highly energy efficient, low environmental impact house that provides healthy indoor living for its occupants, and produces as much energy as it consumes on a yearly basis.   Design criteria could be used to inform the development of residential development permit areas..  

DPAs for energy and water efficiency, and reduction of GHG emissions.

As of this writing, DPAs for energy/water efficiency and reduction of GHG emissions authorized under Bill 27 - Local Government(Green Communities) Statutes Amendment Act, 2008 - have yet to be tested by municipalities and/or established by the courts. Formal legal advice should be sought before developing DPA requirements mandating renewable energy. [4]

One approach is to develop voluntary design guidelines and encourage uptake with incentives like a tax exemption or building permit rebate. Subsequently they could be formally included in a DPA.  

Guidelines could potentially include requirements for energy efficiency for "specific features in the development", or as "machinery, equipment and systems external to buildings and other structures", as provided by the Local Government Act. Requirements could include ground-field loops for ground-source heat pump systems, solar thermal collectors, a district energy system (using e.g. recovered sewer heat or biomass), and systems or features that implement eco-industrial networking concepts, such as the use of "waste" heat from one business as an input to a neighbouring business. [4], [3]

To meet new legislated requirements for targets and reductions, local governments could potentially develop an energy conservation target for a DPA, and correlate the target with a required proportional component of renewable energy in new development [4], [3]

With the authority to include specific landscaping guidelines, DPAs can restrict the placement and type of trees and other vegetation in proximity to buildings and other structures within a DPA, thus allowing local governments to guarantee access to sunlight for buildings that include solar energy features [4], and irrigation systems.  Additional opportunities include guidelines for energy-wise outdoor lighting, building siting and orientation. [3]

Transportation Opportunities

Preferred design for pedestrian crossing of a driveway with low volume is to raise the driveway crossing up and over the pedestrian crossing, and texture the surface of the crossing.  This warns visually impaired pedestrians about the driveway, slows vehicle traffic, and reinforces the continuity of pedestrian movement along the sidewalk.  / IBI Group, Canadian Institute of Transportation Engineers, 2004.Form and character guidelines for site and building design can include elements that favour sustainable and active modes of transportation:

  • Site layout - Internal transportation network configuration determines how pedestrians, cyclists, carpoolers, transit riders move through the site.  Guidelines can influence design to minimize conflict between pedestrians and cyclists with cars, and make it a safe and secure place.
  • Building design elements - The location of the building (setback, location of entrances, organization of parking) affects how conducive the building is to active transportation modes.   Well designed bicycle storage, parking space allocation, pedestrian walkway details, change facilities, and lighting can make tip the balance toward choosing an active mode of transportation.   

The Canadian Institute of Transportation Engineers has developed a key resource for transportation-related DPA guidelines, which includes design and layout recommendations, a design prompt sheet, and tips for specific types of sites (e.g. large format retail, schools, etc.).  

DPAs are an excellent opportunity to require site and building design that allows people with varying mobility and sensory abilities to efficiently get to, from and around new developments. DPAs can include requirements for entrances, hallways, entryways, parking areas that facilitate unrestricted movement. CMHC's Design for Inclusion Toolkit  has such guidelines.

[1], Rutherford, Susan, 2006.  Green Buildings Guide. West Coast Environmental Law

[2], Fraser Basin Council and Canadian Energy Association, 2009. Energy Efficiency and Buildings.  Canadian Association for Energy Efficiency, 

[3], Compass Resource Management Ltd., West Coast Environmental Law, Holland Barrs Planning Group, Shaun Martin Consulting Prepared for:  The District of Squamish, 2008.  Advanced Briefing of Options for Advancing Energy Efficiency for New Buildings.  

[4], Community Energy Association, 2008. Policy and Governance Tools: Renewable Energy Guide For Local Governments in British Columbia (Draft).

[5], Curran, Deborah, 2004.  A Smart Growth Direction for the District of Pitt Meadows, West Coast Environmental Law,

[6],  Buholzer, Bill, June 2008, Local Governments and the Climate Change Agenda.  Planning News.  Planning Institute of BC, Vol 5, No 2.

[7],  Campoli and MacLean, 2007. Visualizing Density, 2007, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy

[8], Kats, Prepared for California Sustainable Buildings Task Force, 2003.  The Costs and Financial Benefits of Green Buildings