It’s hard to believe that something with a name as dry as “Land Use Bylaw Review” will be the most impactful project taken on by the town this year, but it probably is.
The implications are far-reaching. A typical resident might understand a ‘bylaw’ to be a single rule enforced by a city or town but the Land Use Bylaw is much more than that, a ‘super’ bylaw if you will.
Every municipality has one, and it acts as their Bible for how, well, land can be used in their town.
“Every homeowner or business owner in Cochrane is impacted by the Land Use Bylaw, even if they don’t know it,” reads online material from the Town of Cochrane.
“Before their building was built or before their neighbourhood was developed, the Land Use Bylaw established rules to govern what could be built where and for what purpose. The Land Use Bylaw is the most specific and often the most powerful tool in the hierarchy of planning documents.”
The latest version of Cochrane’s Land Use Bylaw debuted in 2004. Much has changed in town since then, most notably a population increase from 12,400 to 29,200.
It was time to freshen the document up to reflect new town realities and last March, a review team primarily comprised of town planners got down to business. The implications on the vision for the long-term future of Cochrane means the review is not to be rushed, and adoption of a new bylaw isn’t expected until next spring.
The review team completed its latest phase (three of six) at the end of June. This research and analysis-based segment focused on residential, non-residential and town-wide contexts, along with the Land Use Bylaw as a document.
Other municipalities in Alberta, B.C. and the United States were examined “to help determine approaches to address issues identified during phase two’s public engagement”, including in a residential context.
‘Traffic congestion and lack of parking’ in residential areas was a common topic brought up by Cochranites during various public engagement opportunities this spring.
“The first approach that we’re presenting […] is regulating access to residential properties,” said project manager Jill Hofer.
“By regulating how many driveways a residential property can have off of a roadway, more room will be available for on-street parking.”
The town planner presented a diagram indicating a significantly larger supply of on-street parking on street where houses had a single driveway leading to their home, as opposed to a double-entrance ‘horseshoe’ driveway in the front or second driveways leading to the side.
“Based on public feedback and analysis by the project team, it has been determined that regulating residential properties to one access should be considered when drafting regulations for the new Land Use Bylaw,” she said, adding that planners are now determining whether such a solution is feasible for all properties or only certain areas or lot dimensions.
Another approach to residential parking availability used by other municipalities involves configuring the driveways of new single-family homes in pairs, creating more useable space between driveway entrances and fewer awkwardly-sized smaller spaces unfit for a vehicle.
“The project team recommends encouraging driveway pairing through the Land Use Bylaw,” Hofer said.
‘Expand available housing options and evaluate housing density’ was another key concern raised during public engagement earlier this year.
The first approach in consideration is to divide residential zoning options further with more specific regulations. Such a move would result in the creation of zones each with specific lot dimensions.
“This gives certainty to what type of housing will be in each area of town, but is more restricted and could create more monotonous or segregated areas of housing.”
Another solution the project team found in other municipalities is just the opposite: provide more general zoning regulations, allowing for more uses and lot sizes within a specific area.
“This provides flexibility to develop creatively and according to market conditions and also creates the opportunity for mixed housing types on the same block however it doesn’t create certainty about the lot sizes and housing types that would be developed in an area.”
The approach recommended by the planning team, however, is to keep the number of residential zones the same, but with more specific regulations within them.
“This would ensure that each zone has a specific function, but still create flexibility to allow for different lot sizes and housing types,” she added.
There is nothing in Cochrane’s current Land Use Bylaw governing infills, single or multi-family development projects in older neighbourhoods. While infill projects are uncommon in Cochrane, it’s an item planners are looking to address to ensure consistency within a neighbourhood.
“This approach would ensure that when infill homes are developed, there are provisions to protect the character, existing streetscape and privacy of the neighbourhood,” Hofer explained.
Planners are also considering the introduction of ‘zero lot-line’ homes to Cochrane, where buildings are oriented along the property line on one side as opposed to in the centre of the lot. It allows for the option of larger houses on the same size of lot, or the same size of home on a smaller lot.
Some of the other municipalities studied by the project team have implemented regulations that require developers to alot a certain number of units designated as ‘affordable housing’ within their projects.
While the town is working on overhauling its Land Use Bylaw, the provincial government is doing the same with its all-encompassing Municipal Government Act (MGA). A proposed change to the MGA involves giving municipalities the authority to implement their own affordable housing requirements.
Town planners are suggesting that a new Land Use Bylaw should allow for flexibility to add such regulations once the province finalizes the topic of affordable housing within the MGA.
The final residential concern raised through public consultation involves the extent of notification signage required for development.
“Many residents noted that there should be more information provided to adjacent landowners when they are notified about any nearby development, and that in general there should be more information-sharing between the town and landowners about development issues,” said the planning department’s Joelle Annicchiarico.
She noted this topic’s uniqueness in that it was addressed in December when council approved a bylaw expanding signage requirements.
“We found that these have been functioning pretty well so far, we’ve been getting some good feedback about them,” she said.
“Based on the research completed at various municipalities it has been determined that with these signs the amount of notification we’re providing exceeds the standards that most other municipalities are following.”
When it comes to changes to the residential portions of the Land Use Bylaw, nothing is set in stone.
As the review team conducts further research ahead of submitting a draft bylaw (expected in February of next year), they may find that what works in one municipality may not work for Cochrane. While the most significant portion of public engagement is over, they may still discover residential issues outside of street parking, housing options and notification signage requiring further consideration.
The best collection of information on the Land Use Bylaw review project is found on the town’s public engagement website, LetsTalkCochrane.ca. Visitors can see the specifics of the current Land Use Bylaw, view project timelines and learn more about the results of public surveys conducted earlier this year.