Neighbourhood character, rainwater management and regulatory change in West Vancouver
Note to Reader:
A defining issue in West Vancouver is dramatic alteration of the residential landscape due to property redevelopment. Concerns are two-fold: neighbourhood character and watershed health (because the natural ‘water balance’ is out of balance)
After more than a decade of consultation, the District of West Vancouver has found an innovative way to respond to community concerns with tangible action. The municipality has applied longstanding legislation – S.523 and S.527 of the Local Government Act – and amended its Zoning Bylaw to make a landscaping plan a building permit requirement for every lot in residential zones.
This bylaw requirement encompasses on-property drainage and irrigation, such that it integrates a water balance approach to site development. The West Vancouver bylaw is believed to be the first such application of S.523 and S.527 in the province. The bylaw also partially fulfills a region-wide regulatory commitment to implement rainwater management in Metro Vancouver.
Zoning Bylaw Precedent: West Vancouver integrates Water Balance Solutions into Site Development Decision Process
Context for Regulatory Change
Circa 2005, preservation of “neighbourbood character” first emerged as a major issue in the District of West Vancouver. Why? Property redevelopment and construction of McMansions were radically altering the residential landscape. This also impacts how, and how much, rainwater runoff reaches creeks.
In response, the District in 2006 initiated a citizen-based “Working Group model” to identify and explore solutions. The approach was successful in tapping the expertise and wisdom embodied within the community. By 2013, the United Nations honoured West Vancouver with an award for community engagement leadership.
Regional Requirements for Rainwater Management:
In 2008, Metro Vancouver adapted the Working Group model when it appointed a community-based advisory Reference Panel to provide oversight and guidance for development of the region’s Integrated Liquid Waste & Resource Management Plan.
Approved by the Minister of Environment in 2011, the regional plan established regulatory requirements for rainwater management. Municipalities must update bylaws, utility design standards and neighbourhood design guidelines to restore the water balance by slowing, spreading and sinking runoff where the rainwater lands.
Provincial Legislation Enables Municipal Action:
Fast forward to 2016. West Vancouver is demonstrating leadership and innovation by creating legislation within the scope of S.523 and S.527 of the Local Government Act to achieve desired outcomes for on-site rainwater management.
Regulatory change is being implemented through precedent-setting Site Landscaping Requirements in the Zoning Bylaw.
Site Landscaping – The Means to an End:
“The District of West Vancouver, through the ongoing discussions related to neighbourhood character and building bulk, has undertaken to implement a requirement for site landscaping as part of both new development and the redevelopment of properties throughout the community,” states Jim Bailey, Director of Planning & Development Services.
“Through the public engagement and outreach on this issue, site landscaping, vegetation retention and tree protection were often cited as the most impactful ways to mitigate building bulk and drainage impacts.”
“Further, feedback from those in the homebuilding and construction industry suggested that improved landscape regulations and bonding requirements would assist in having their clients consider this matter more diligently and to plan for site landscaping while undertaking residential projects within existing neighbourhoods.
Local Government Act provides the Ability to Regulate
“The freshly minted landscape regulations packaged within the District’s zoning bylaw is authorized under Sections 523 and 527 of the Local Government Act,” continues Jim Bailey.
“Section 523 authorizes local governments to enact bylaws and regulations to ‘manage and provide for the ongoing disposal of surface runoff and storm water’ as they relate to paved or roof areas (impervious areas).”
“Local governments may, by bylaw, establish maximums on the amount of impermeable surface as part of a development (e.g. the development of a dwelling or structure). These can vary by zone, use, area, terrain or condition.”
“Section 527 authorizes local governments to provide for ‘screening and landscaping to mask or separate uses or to preserve, protect, restore and enhance the natural environment’. Screening and landscaping can also be required to prevent hazardous conditions (e.g. erosion or slope instability).”
Define Goals, Establish Targets:
The powers under Sections 523 and 527 can be made to apply to different zones, different uses with a zone or different areas within a zone. The West Vancouver regulations have the following goals and targets. Specifically, the bylaw:
- Requires a landscape plan for new and replacement dwelling projects.
- Requires minimum landscape standards and retention of vegetation.
- Requires adequate bonding for the work to ensure installation.
- Requires a letter detailing compliance by the applicant’s landscape contractor with landscape.
- Seeks initial and ongoing compliance with the intent of the bylaw.
“Compliance includes limiting the amount of impermeable surfacing, surface runoff control, the requirement for screening and landscaping to mask or separate adjacent uses and to preserve, protect, restore and enhance the natural environment,” reiterates Jim Bailey.
To Learn More:
Download Amendment to West Vancouver Zoning Bylaw.
Moving Towards Sustainable Watershed Systems
West Vancouver’s bylaw requirement for site landscaping is the cornerstone for a whole-system, water balance approach known as Sustainable Watershed Systems. The District has found an innovative way to refocus business processes to properly manage the water balance within the built environment.
“The District is seen by many to be leading the way in the utilization of Section 527 as it relates to the preserving, protecting, restoring and enhancing the natural environment,” reports Jim Bailey.
“The protection of natural areas and the increased degree of landscaping and pervious surfaces encouraged by the bylaw helps the District achieve this.”
“Section 523 is a section of the legislation addressing runoff control requirements and this legislation is being increasingly utilized to address the ‘over engineering’ of stormwater systems seen in the past (primarily public systems).
“This section of the legislation allows local governments to explore alternatives to these highly engineered systems and to begin to look at options for onsite/private lands as well. The landscape requirements enacted in the District of West Vancouver are leveraging this legislation for maximum advantage,” concludes Jim Bailey.