Frequently Asked Questions
Below are general answers to frequently asked questions. Should you require more assistance, you may submit your question(s) on our Ask Planning page, call the RDN Planning Department at 250-390-6510 or toll-free via the RDN main line at 1-877-607-4111 or submit a question by email at askplanning [at] rdn.bc.ca.
Please Note: This information is not a substitute for legal counsel or professional advice.
Land Use Questions
- Setbacks & Height
Rules for siting buildings or structures are largely found in your zoning. This can depend, however, on the feature or use. For example, setbacks for buildings used to house animals are found in the general regulations section of the applicable zoning bylaw (see Chickens, Horses, and Other Animals, on this page). Alternatively, setbacks to features such as watercourses, or the sea, are also found in the general regulations section of the applicable bylaw – refer to “Setbacks to Water Features” on this page for more information.
Rules around height for buildings or structures are also found in your zone. There are, however, exemptions for some things, like flag poles. Exemptions can be found in the general regulations section of the zoning bylaw, under “Height Exemptions”. The appropriate zoning bylaw can be accessed on the Bylaws and Policies page.
The zone will direct you to the appropriate section of the bylaw for rules about uses not listed within the zone.
- Setbacks to Water Features - Watercourses, Streams, the Sea
It is important to understand that there are bylaw “setbacks” which apply to siting a building or structure near a water feature, and that there are environmentally sensitive areas identified by a biologist that may be larger than a bylaw setback that should not be disturbed. These areas are protected by development permit areas and/or may be protected by covenants on title. Water features are also considered to be a hazard – either due to flood risk and/or steep slopes along their banks – vegetation plays an important role in protecting life and property from such hazards. Setbacks are also imposed by the floodplain bylaw as well as minimum elevations for habitable buildings above the natural boundary.
*Please contact planning staff before clearing a property with a water feature or removing/pruning trees or vegetation near a water feature, to learn more about development permit requirements associated with water features.
For setbacks to water features and development permit area guidelines (freshwater, marine coast), refer to the appropriate zoning bylaw accessed on the Bylaws and Policies page. The floodplain bylaw can also be found on this page. It is recommended to discuss your plans with planning staff to ensure that you understand how these documents apply to your property and your particular project. Contact information is listed on the left of the page.
- Fences & Retaining Walls
Whether or not lot line setbacks and height rules apply to a fence or retaining wall depends on whether or not it is considered to be a “structure” by the zoning bylaw. The definition of structure in most plan areas exempts fences under 2 metres (6.5 feet) in height and retaining walls less than 1 metre (2.5 feet) that hold back less than a metre of soil (less than 1:1). Electoral Area F (Coombs, Errington, Hilliers, Whiskey Creek) zoning rules allow for fences under 2.5 metres and retaining walls less than 1 metre in height, within the lot line setback. Refer to the definition of “structure” in the appropriate zoning bylaw for more information under Bylaws and Policies
- Secondary Suites & Carriage Houses
Secondary suites are allowed in the following zones:
Bylaw 500: AG1, RS1, RS1.1, RS2, and RU1 – RU10 (inclusive);
Bylaw 1285: A-1, R-1, R-2, R-3, R-4, FR-2
Secondary Suites are not allowed in all other zones, unless specifically listed as a permitted use in that zone.
For more information about Secondary Suites, please see rdn.bc.ca/secondary-suites
Suites in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR)
Secondary suites within the principal dwelling unit are permitted in the ALR.
On December 31, 2021, amendments to the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) Act came into effect that allow a second dwelling in the ALR provided it is not larger than 90 square metres. Please note that the second dwelling is subject to RDN zoning regulations so may not be permitted on all parcels in the ALR.
For more information, please contact the ALC at 1-604-660-7000 or consult their website at www.alc.gov.bc.ca
Our mapping tool can be used to determine if a property may be located within the reserve. See the buttons below. Please note that this information should be confirmed with the ALC.
Refer to the secondary suites brochure and secondary suites policy and general regulations section of the appropriate zoning bylaw for more information under Bylaws and Policies
- Chickens, Horses & Other Animals
Most properties are allowed to have up to five hens (household poultry). However, it will depend on the size of your property and in some cases the zoning, as to whether or not you may have roosters (household animals) or horses (household livestock). The rules for the keeping of such animals can be found in the General Regulations section of the zoning bylaw for your Electoral Area under “Keeping of Animals”. These rules set out limits on how many and what types of animals can be kept as well as how they are kept. Siting, or where your coop, chicken run, or barn can be constructed on your property can be found in the same section of the zoning bylaw, under “Setbacks – Buildings and Structures” for “Agriculture and Farm Buildings, Structures and Uses”.
Many properties pre-exist within floodplains, oceanic or otherwise. Some are mapped and can be confirmed by referencing our mapping tool. Others are within a designated floodplain per the floodplain bylaw, for example, any property within 100 m of an un-named water feature that meets the bylaw's definition, is within a floodplain. The bylaw regulates how far a building, or fill to elevate a building, must be from such a water feature. It also regulates how high above the feature habitable space within a building must be. For more information, consult planning staff. The RDN floodplain bylaw can be found on the Bylaws and Policies page, linked on the left of the screen.
- Tree Protection
Prior to removing any trees or other vegetation in the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN), it is important to know if your property is located within an Environmental Development Permit Area (DPA), or if it contains any environmentally
sensitive features. If your property is located within a DPA, a Development Permit from the RDN may be required prior to any land alteration, including vegetation removal and tree cutting.
The RDN has recently adopted policy regarding applications for Retail and Production Licences. Please refer to the Policies section on the Bylaws and Policies page for more information. See the navigation pane on the left of the screen.
Addressing is assigned by the RDN and is handled by our mapping team (GIS). Properties that do not have addresses will not be assigned an address until a building permit for the principal building is applied for. Temporary addresses to facilitate hydro applications, for example, can be assigned. They are not permanently assigned and added to our mapping however until a building permit is applied for. For further information, please refer to the Addressing webpage under GIS/Mapping.
Zoning sets the rules for how you may use your property, by setting out what you can do (ie. Secondary suites, Home Based Business), where on the property it can be located, and at what density (e.g. how many dwelling units are allowed). Other sections of the zoning bylaw, besides the zone itself, also regulate activities on your property such as parking, setbacks to ditches, or home-based business rules. The applicable bylaw can be accessed on the Bylaw and Policies page.
To learn what zone applies to your property or properties around you, refer to the zoning map which is incorporated into the “Land Use Regulations” map and available through our mapping tool. For more information, see “Maps” below.
- ALR - Agricultural Land Reserve
There have been recent and ongoing changes to the Agricultural Land Commission Act and related Regulations. Land within the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) is governed both by the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) and RDN bylaws and policies. It is important to familiarize yourself with ALC regulations, policies and bulletins as well as RDN bylaws and policies before purchasing property within the ALR, purchasing building plans, clearing vegetation (e.g. brush, trees), bringing on fill, removing soil, excavating, or establishing/expanding a use. This includes creating new accesses and driveways. Contact the RDN planning department to learn more about the use of ALR land as well as the ALC. The ALC provides a wealth of information, as does AgriService BC and the Ministry of Agriculture. Please refer to their websites for further information.
- Plot Plans | Site Plans | Site Surveys
“Plot Plans” or site plans, are submitted to the RDN through various application processes, typically through building permit applications. Building Inspection was not in place across the RDN until 2011 which means that the RDN may not have site plans on file.
To access building records, you must either be the property owner or an authorized agent. To apply, fill out a Request for Information Form and submit to Building Inspection Services along with the applicable fee and authorization form (where applicable). To learn more, please refer to the Building Inspection Frequently Asked Questions page.
Alternatively, the RDN’s mapping tools can be used to look at an airphoto of a property with the approximate location of lot lines projected over top. The mapping tools also offer the ability to measure distances and areas. If accuracy is not important, this may serve your purposes. See “Maps” below for more information.
If you are seeking a site survey of a property, you will likely need to work with a BC Land Surveyor to prepare a site survey on your behalf.
- Maps - Zoning, Airphotos, etc
To find out what your zoning is, you will need to reference a map. A wide range of maps, including those referenced by the zoning bylaw or electoral area official community plan bylaws, can be viewed using our mapping tool found embedded in the Bylaws and Policies page or the GIS/Mapping page. This includes the Agricultural Land Reserve, topography, known water features, known eagle and heron nesting trees, mapped floodplains, and known coal workings, for example. Instruction on how to use the mapping tool is also available on these pages.
- Well & Septic Information
To find copies of your well record or septic filing, you will need to contact the applicable Provincial office. For well records, contact FrontCounter BC. For septic filings, contact Island Health Nanaimo (south): 250-755-6215, Parksville (north): 250-947-8222.
The RDN may or may not have copies available in our building permit records. To apply, fill out a Request for Information Form and submit it to Building Inspection Services along with the applicable fee and authorization form (where applicable). To learn more, please refer to the Building Inspection Frequently Asked Questions page.
- Easements | Covenants
Inquirers seeking access to land title documents such as easements and/or covenants may do so through the BC Land Title Office’s website. The Land Title Office also provides property ownership information, copies of Title, and charges listed on title, such as easements, covenants and building schemes. If you have trouble understanding these documents, you may wish to seek legal counsel on your behalf.
Any permits listed on title can be accessed by informal request through the RDN’s Planning department. See our contact information on the left of the screen (you may need to scroll up). These are permits such as development, variance, or temporary use permits. In addition to permits registered on title, the RDN may also have orders of the Board of Variance on file for a particular property.
Business in the RDN
Businesses operating within the boundaries of the RDN must be in compliance with zoning. The RDN does not issue business licenses, nor is a business license required to operate a business within its boundaries. However, home-based businesses are strongly encouraged to register with the RDN, and in some cases, Provincial Agencies require support from the RDN in order to issue a license or approval.
Please note: Operating a business within an incorporated area, such as the City of Nanaimo, City of Parksville, or Town of Qualicum Beach, requires a business license. Please contact these local governments directly for more information.
- Home Based Business
Home-based business regulations are embedded within the RDN’s two zoning bylaws, Bylaw 500 and Bylaw 1285. These regulations establish the scope and scale of commercial uses permitted within residential and rural zones. This includes regulations around signage, parking, floor area and runoff control standards.
For more information on Home Based Business regulations in the Regional District of Nanaimo, please see our Bylaws and Policies page. To find an application form to register your Home Based Business visit our Application Packages page. Home Based Business registry applications are free of charge.
- Short-Term Rentals/ Airbnb
Renting your home and/or a secondary suite on a short-term basis is not a permitted residential use. In accordance with the Home-Based Business Regulations of the applicable bylaw, the only short-term rentals permitted on residentially zoned properties are Bed and Breakfasts. A bed and breakfast must be located within the principal dwelling unit, of which the permanent occupant is the registered business owner, and the first meal of the day must be provided. Bed and breakfasts are not permitted on properties that have a secondary suite or carriage house. Please refer to the home-based business regulations within the applicable zoning bylaw:
Bylaw 500 Home Based Business Regulations
Bylaw 1285 Home Based Business Regulations
There are some commercial zone properties in which ‘Hotel’ and ‘Resort Condominium ’ are permitted uses and which also permit short-term vacation rentals. You can check your property's zoning using our Find My Zoning Map. If you have further questions a Planner can be reached at askplanning [at] rdn.bc.ca (askplanning[at]rdn[dot]bc[dot]ca)
- Provincial Licences & Approvals
Where required, licenses and/or approvals from Provincial agencies are necessary to operate a business within the RDN, such as for liquor and cannabis retail sales, child care or food service. In some cases, the Provincial agency requires the RDN to support an application for a license before it can be issued. Applicants for Provincial licenses such as liquor or cannabis retail, are required to make an application to the RDN for review. Please be advised that the required licenses and approvals may need to be submitted in support of a building permit application, such as to establish a catering service or childcare facility as a home-based business within a residential building. For more information refer to the applicable provincial agency. Note that in some cases, the RDN has a policy in place, such as for liquor and cannabis licensing. These can be found on the Bylaws and Policies page linked on the left of the screen.
- Land Use Information Letters
Before establishing a new commercial business within the RDN, it is recommended to confirm with planning staff that the proposed location has suitable zoning. Please contact Planning to request this information in writing, if required. There is a fee of $40.
Applications & Permits
- Application Forms
Application Forms for planning approvals, such as development permits, the home-based business registry, and land use information letters, can be found on the Bylaws and Policies page linked on the left of the screen.
Fees for planning applications can be found in the Fees Bylaw on the Bylaws and Policies page linked on the left of the screen. For more complex applications, such as subdivisions or amendments, you may wish to contact planning staff. Contact information is listed on the left of the screen (you may need to scroll up).
- Development Permits
How do I cut down trees or build near a ditch, or an Eagles nest, or in a floodplain, or above a known aquifer?
If your property is within a Development Permit Area, a development permit may be required before undertaking any development activity such as soil disturbance, vegetation removal, land alteration or subdivision.
Development Permit Areas are areas designated in Official Community Plans that the community wishes to protect or enhance, such as environmentally sensitive features and farmland. Development Permit Areas also protect development from hazardous conditions and establish design, lighting, and layout features for some residential and commercial areas.
To learn which development permit areas apply to your property, please contact us or refer to the mapping tools linked on the right of the screen.
How do I build taller than allowed, or closer to a property line than allowed?
Variances are a tool that allow for the accommodation of atypical (unusual) development scenarios, like sites with extreme topography, hazardous conditions, environmentally sensitive features, or commercial uses not anticipated by the bylaw (ie. zoning). Applicants are advised to bring their proposals into compliance with the regulation as closely as possible, to minimize the need for a variance, and to help mitigate the impacts of that variance on other properties, the functionality of the site and aesthetic values. Applicants must identify such impacts and propose solutions to lessen their effects.
Please note that variance applications are a public process. It is suggested that applicants discuss their plans with neighbours and tailor their proposals to address feedback.
There are two options to apply for a variance to a regulation. One is through the Board of Directors, the other is through the Board of Variance. Please note that the Board of Variance can only make decisions under very specific circumstances. For more information about the Board of Variance, please refer to the Board of Variance below.
- Temporary Use Permits
Can I establish a use on a property on a short-term basis?
Where a use is not allowed on a property due to zoning, an option is to apply for a temporary use permit. Temporary use permits can be used for short-term uses, like a sales office for a condominium development, or a food truck. In addition, they can be used to “test drive” a new use, before applying to permanently amend a zoning bylaw. Where the trial goes well, a zoning amendment application can be made without also amending the OCP, where the use is not supported. Temporary use permits are good for up to three years and can be amended to allow for up to an additional three years. Contact planning staff to discuss your proposal and to determine if this is an option supported by the applicable OCP.
- Zoning Amendments
How do I establish a business or use in an area where it’s not currently allowed?
An amendment application is required when a property owner wishes to change an existing Official Community Plan (OCP) land use designation or policy, the property zoning or subdivision district, or any other land use regulation contained in RDN bylaws (ie. Sign Bylaw).
Please Note: Where a parcel is designated within a development permit area (DPA) by an OCP and the proposed development is not exempt from the DPA guidelines, the property owner or agent is also required to apply to the Board of Directors for a development permit in addition to the amendment application.