Development in the Town of Comox

If you are considering developing a property, purchasing a property, constructing or renovating an existing home or if you have questions regarding the Town’s Official Community Plan and development procedures, the Town’s Planning Department is here to assist you.

The Planning Department has a range of roles and responsibilities related to managing land-use change within the Town that includes:

• Town-wide land use planning including the Official Community Plan and Zoning Bylaw
• Planning applications including rezoning, development permit, development variance permits, and OCPAmendment
• Subdivisions and Development Servicing Agreements

The Planning Department can provide information if:

  • You are looking to purchase a property and need more information regarding the zoning of the property, its OCP designation, the type of uses permitted on the property, or regulations for accessory buildings.
  • You want to redevelop your property and need information on the appropriate application process, fees and application timelines.
  • You have questions about ongoing applications, how these applications are processed and how they are presented to Council.
  • You have questions about the public consultation process for development applications or you have questions about making a submission regarding an ongoing development application.
  • You want information regarding the Official Community Plan and how it will influence growth within the Town.

Planning Department staff are able to assist Monday to Friday, 8:30 am -4:30 pm, (250) 339-1118.

Below is an overview of bylaws and documents central to the planning and development process for the Town of Comox.

Official Community Plan

The Official Community Plan (OCP) is essential to planning for future growth and development within Comox. It sets forth a 20-year vision for the Town establishing community objectives and broad statements of policy to guide Council’s decisions about land use, zoning and development.

The current Town of Comox OCP, adopted in 2011, is the result of a comprehensive process that began in 2009. This process included a number of technical and background reports and a broad program of public consultation that culminated in Town Council’s adoption of a new Official Community Plan Bylaw in July of 2011. Information on the Official Community Planning process, including technical and background reports is available here.

In British Columbia a local government must ensure that it’s OCP is consistent with a larger Regional Growth Strategy (a planning document that sets forth a vision for land use and growth for an entire regional district). Since the Town of Comox is located within the Comox Valley Regional District, it’s OCP must be consistent with the development and growth patterns found in the CVRD Regional Growth Strategy.

The OCP contains the following:

• Approximate location, amount, type and density of residential development required to meet anticipated housing needs over a period of at least five years;
• Approximate location, amount and type of present and proposed commercial, industrial, institutional, agricultural and recreational land uses;
• Restrictions on the use of land subject to hazardous conditions or identified as environmentally sensitive;
• Approximate location and phasing of any major road, sewer and water systems;
• Approximate location and type of present and proposed public facilities, including schools parks and waste treatment sites;
• Policies with respect to affordable, rental and special needs housing;
• Targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and policies and actions proposed with respect to achieving those targets.

An OCP also may also contain:

• Policies relating to social needs, social well-being and social development;
• Policies to maintain and enhance farming and designate specific areas for agricultural use;
• Policies for the preservation, protection, restoration and enhancement of the natural environment its ecosystems and biological diversity.

Additionally, the OCP may designate Development Permit Areas, which allow the Town additional controls for regulating certain types of development.

You can find the OCP land use designation of your property by looking it up on the OCP Land Use Maps and you can also check the Development Permit Area Maps to determine if your property is within a Development Permit Area. Further details about land use categories and Development Permit Area Guidelines can be found in the Official Community Plan Bylaw, 2011. If you have further questions about the Official Community Plan please contact the Planning Department either in person at Town Hall or by phone at (250) 339-1118.

If you are considering a development project that does not fit within the land use designations of the OCP, you may need to get an OCP amendment to ensure the project conforms with the OCP. Information on the OCP amendment process can be found here and you can also contact the Planning Department either in person at Town Hall or by phone at (250)339-1118 for further information.


Zoning refers to a set of regulations that govern how land can currently be used within the Town of Comox. It is not visionary like the OCP, instead providing a current snapshot of legal uses for your property. In the Town of Comox each property has a specific zoning designation that in addition to specifying permitted uses, also includes regulations for numerous elements including permitted uses, parking restrictions, minimum setbacks, building height and accessory buildings.

The Town of Comox uses eight main zoning designations that govern how land can be used:

• Residential Zones – Includes single-family, two-family and mobile home zones
• Multi-Family Residential Zones – Includes patio home, townhouse and apartment zones
• Commercial Zones – Includes neighbourhood commercial, general commercial and core commercial zones
• Marine Zones – Includes marine recreation and marine commercial zones
• Industrial Zones – Includes light industrial and aeronautical industrial zones
• Park Zones – Includes park and public golf course zones
• Institutional Zones – Includes public assembly zones
• Agricultural Zones – Includes agricultural zones

For a detailed description of each zone please see Schedule A beginning on page 51 of the Town of Comox, Zoning Bylaw 1850. For the location of each zone, or to find out the zoning of a specific property please see the Town of Comox Zoning Map or contact the Planning Department.

In addition to establishing current land use within the Town, the Zoning bylaw also contains a set of general regulations applicable to the entire Town. These include provisions regarding fences, visual clearance at intersections, swimming pools and non permanent structures. For more information please see “Section 5 General Regulations” beginning at page 26 of the Town of Comox, Zoning Bylaw 1850

If a development project differs from the use or density shown in the Zoning bylaw, the project must go through a rezoning process in order to change the use or density permitted on the property.

How to Calculate Vehicle and Bicycle Parking Spaces

The Planning Department has created a parking calculation tool to assist with the application process. The tool calculates the required number of vehicle parking spaces as well as the possible reduction in vehicle parking spaces if bicycle parking spaces are provided. Also included in this tool are the requirements for accessible parking space and loading spaces. For more information and to download a copy of the tool please click here

Affordable Housing Calculator Guide

Since the adoption of the Town’s Affordable Housing Strategy in 2008, the contribution of either land or cash-in-lieu of land has been an amenity obtained for the community through the negotiations of major rezoning applications. During pre-application discussions, developers frequently wish to know what the Town is seeking in relation to this community priority.

Development Permit Area (DPA)

A Development Permit Area (DPA) is a set of development regulations that affect a specific area. In Comox Development Permit Areas are included as part of the OCP. In British Columbia, section 919.1 of the Local Government Act allows municipalities to regulate Development Permit Areas for the following purposes:

• Establishment of objectives for the form and character of intensive residential, commercial and industrial development;
• Establishment of objectives to promote energy and water conservation and a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions;
• Protection of natural environments, ecosystems and biodiversity;
• Protection of farmland;
• Revitalization of commercial areas.

In the new OCP the Town of Comox established 16 Development Permit Areas (see the Development Permit Area Maps for their exact locations) with special objectives to support the purposes listed above.

During the OCP process, one of the most important considerations that emerged was a desire to preserve the existing form and character of the Town, while emphasizing its marine heritage. Development Permit Areas that consider form and character include building and landscape design guidelines to ensure high-quality developments that become a positive asset to their surrounding neighbourhoods. In addition to specifying building and landscape design elements DPAs that regulate form and character also contain guidelines to encourage energy and water conservation including the support of green technology like solar panels for electricity or geothermal systems for heating.

DPAs concerned with form and character include Development Permit Areas 1 – 6. See the Official Community Plan DPA Maps for exact locations of each area and the Comox Official Community Plan Bylaw, 2011 for a detailed description of the guidelines for each DPA.

The Town of Comox also developed a specific set of DPAs committed to protecting the natural environment, biodiversity and sensitive ecosystems that are an important feature of life in the Town. The DPAs include provisions to protect the riparian areas of Brooklyn Creek and Lazo Marsh (DPA 7), identified Bald Eagle and Great Blue Heron nesting sites and perching trees (DPA 10), existing wildlife corridors (DPA 11) and Garry Oak Habitat (DPA 12). A full list of environmental DPAs and their locations can be found in the Official Community Plan Bylaw, 2011 and the Official Community Plan DPA Maps

In addition to guidelines and regulations to protect and preserve the natural environment, the Town has also used a DPA (DPA #13 – Hazardous Areas) to protect development from hazardous conditions including erosion and unstable slopes. If a property is located within this DPA a development permit is required for any alteration of the land – including vegetation – to protect against landslides and ensure buildings remain safe. Please see the Official Community Plan Bylaw, 2011 and the Official Community Plan DPA Maps. If you think your property may be in this DPA please contact the Planning Department, (250) 339-1118 regarding a development permit prior to commencing any type of onsite works.

Development Permit

A Development Permit is a binding legal document that authorizes development on a specific parcel of land. In the Town of Comox a Development Permit is required for most development projects located within Development Permit Areas (See the Development Permit Area Maps for their exact locations and the Development Permit Area descriptions in the Official Community Plan). Development Permits contain conditions to ensure the development project conforms to the purpose of each Development Permit Area. A Development Permit cannot alter the use or density of a property and their conditions typically relate to the form and character and environmental regulations of the Town’s DPAs.

If you have any questions regarding Development Permits, when a Development Permit is required, or the Development Permitting Process please see the Application Process and Forms or contact the Planning Department either in person at Town Hall or by phone at (250) 339-1118.

Development Variance Permit

A Development Variance Permit (DVP) is a site-specific variance of one or more aspects of the Zoning Bylaw – excluding use or density. DVPs are necessary when aspects of a development project, like building height, do not meet the requirements of the Zoning Bylaw. A DVP is a binding legal document that is registered on the title of a property.

If you have any questions regarding Development Variance Permits or the Variance Permitting Process please see the Application Process or contact the Planning Department either in person at Town Hall or by phone (250) 339-1118.

Age-Friendly Planning

Age-friendly communities feature policies, programs and services designed to make it easier for older adults to remain physically and socially active within the community. The idea of age-friendly communities was brought to the forefront in 2007 with the release of the World Health Organization’s Age-Friendly Cities model and associated programs.

The Town of Comox, like many other communities in British Columbia, is taking steps to actively encourage development that considers the changing needs of older adults, while also providing amenities for individuals of all ages. The province of British Columbia, recognizing the importance of age-friendly initiatives has created a set of resources to help municipalities become more age-friendly.

During the Official Community Plan Process the Town of Comox conducted a series of meetings with older adults specifically focused on age-friendly planning initiatives, which resulted in the following reports:

Age Friendly Planning Background Report
Age Friendly Planning Summary Report – June 2010

Age-Friendly objectives include increased safety and accessibility and the consideration of the needs of ageing adults in planning and development decisions.

The Town of Comox is taking steps to meet these objectives, most notably through the incorporation of a set of “Adaptable Housing Standards” into the Town of Comox, Zoning Bylaw 1850. These standards resulted in the completion of the Town’s first adaptable residential units in the summer of 2012 and allow the Town and the Planning Department to mandate housing options that are better suited to the needs of current and future Comox residents.

For more information regarding age-friendly planning policies, please contact the Town of Comox Planning Department either in person at Town Hall or by phone at (250) 339-1118.

Coach House

In the Town of Comox, a Coach House is a small standalone residential unit typically located in the backyard of a single-family dwelling. Either the coach house or the single-family dwelling must be owner-occupied. Currently, Coach Houses are only permitted in the R3.3 Single-Family/Secondary Suite – Large Lot Zone. As contained in the Official Community Plan Residential Detached Policy, the long term intent is to expand the availability of this housing option to other zones.

A new Development Permit Area (DPA) #17: Coach Houses was created to:
1. Establish objectives:
• For the form and character of coach houses;
• To promote energy and water conservation; and
• To promote a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions;
2. Create a series of exemptions to allow developments that meet standard design criteria to proceed without development permit application; and
3. Create guidelines for non-standard proposals.

DPA #17 applies to all lands designated Residential in the OCP, which support Coach Houses, including lands currently zoned R3.3 Single-Family/ Secondary Suite – Large Lot, where Coach Houses are a permitted use.

Comox Zoning Bylaw Amendment:
1. Permits modular (prefabricated building or components) as a Coach House;
2. Restricts front and exterior side yard aggregate access driveways and parking areas to one per side and a maximum 6.0 metres wide, to maintain existing neighbourhood character and promote ground water recharge; and
3. Requires screening from an adjoining parcel where a Coach House is located closer than 7.5 metres from a lot line.

No properties were pre-zoned to permit coach houses. The implementation of the proposed Coach House Zoning Standards would require rezoning of each specific parcel through the applicant’s submission of a rezoning application, which triggers a public consultation component in the form of newspaper ads and a public hearing.

For more details regarding a Coach House view the Coach House Guide.

Acoustical Standards for Residential Development

Reducing setbacks to bring buildings closer to the street enables:
• More efficient use of urban land;
• Active building frontages where doors and windows face the street; and
• More lively public streets.
These desirable goals can conflict with residential livability when traffic noise exceeds acceptable limits for uninterrupted sleep or undisturbed conversation within dwelling units.

The Town has sought mitigations (measures intended to offset the impact of traffic noise) on residential properties within 75 m of the Town’s busiest streets and anywhere within the Comox Downtown Vitalization Area. Mitigation of traffic noise will be sought during major rezoning applications. This won’t apply to minor rezoning applications such as rezoning a single-family parcel for a coach house. Nor will this apply to subdivisions that do not require rezoning.

The Town has recently developed a standardized methodology to allow developers to determine if their proposed residential development would be affected by levels of traffic noise that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Commission considers important to mitigate.

A web-based Acoustical Standards tool will incorporate the Town’s existing traffic data for arterial and major collector streets such as:

• Traffic volumes;
• Average speeds;
• Type of traffic (cars vs. multi-axel heavy vehicles); and
• Road grades (engine sound increases with steepness).

The developer will need to input the following factors in the calculator:

• Proximity of intersections (the cause of stop and start noise);
• Whether the landscape is a hard or soft surface between the road and the building(s);
• Setbacks of building facades from roads;
• Proposed number of stories in a building; and
• Whether a building is orientated parallel or perpendicular to the road.

Since BC Building Code standards for wall construction give a high level of sound attenuation, mitigation actions, if applicable, primarily consist of increased sound attenuation specifications for windows.

Please contact Planning Department staff for more information, (250) 339-1118.

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