COSMOS basics for those who prefer written instructions over video tutorials

We all learn differently! That’s great! The Cosmos team at the City have made some amazing videos! That’s great! I love them …. But one of my neighbours couldn’t understand them and asked for a written step-by-step. So here it is, for those who like their tips written out for them, humbly presented by the GHSA Board Chair who welcomes tips and suggestions to this guide.

This is a very simplified introduction to COSMOS, The City of Surrey’s Online Mapping System . COSMOS is a powerful program with endless layers and investigative options however, for those who simply want to know how to look up a street address and find a little basic information about it, this guide just may do the trick. My neighbour printed it out, opened up the application, and away he went (or have two browser windows open at once; even easier).

This will show you how to perform a basic property search and what to do if you encounter a development application that piques your interest.

After clicking the link to COSMOS you will reach this splash page.


The question mark on the bottom of the splash page will connect you to professional, in-depth tutorials hosted by the GIS experts at the City of Surrey. Please take advantage of these! They are in video form and cover everything from simple to complex. Here’s how the tutorials look.


Back to the procedure: to use COSMOS maps, on the splash page  you are presented with four options.


Clicking MyCOSMOS at the top of this page will bring you to some settings and maps that you have saved in the past. The COSMOS site will teach you how to do this.

Clicking City Map will bring up a map of the entire city without any specific layers. Layers are filters which bring up specific types of information and although there are too many to list here, they are all-encompassing from sanitary sewer lines to parks to zoning to heritage markers to etc etc…..

Some people like to use COSMOS to find a specific location by starting with this map (the City Map) then zooming in until the location is found. The view changes from aerial to street grid as you zoom in. The map below shows the “starting point” of the map view of Surrey.


Below, I have zoomed in randomly to the Sullivan area. The map transformed into a “base map” (street grid) as I zoomed in.


You can switch between the base map (street grid) and aerial by changing the options at the top right corner of every screen. Here is the same map as the one above, showing the aerial view as opposed to the base map.


Finding a specific location using the zoom is a method that involves a lot of fiddling around so that’s why I prefer to simply type in an address when I can.

However, before we go there, lets explore getting around COSMOS, literally: how to zoom in and out, pan and change views as I did above using the City Map as a starting point.


There is also a menu in the top left corner of every view (extent) or COSMOS that helps you navigate:


Zoom in and out to see more or less of the area.

DO NOT click the little globe which means Full Extent or you will be back at the City map you started with on the splash page and your address search will be lost!

The little hand (Pan) means that you can cruise around the map without zooming in or out. Your map will remain at the same scale, and will just move in any of the cardinal directions. This is extremely useful when exploring your neighbourhood. On a Mac with trackpad this done by using one finger on the trackpad. With a Windows computer and mouse, just drag the mouse.

You are also given another zoom button (the magnifying glass) just in case you missed it up above with the plus sign …

One word of caution here: if you are happily experimenting with Cosmos then want to return to where you were, if you click the back button on your browser, you will exit out of Cosmos completely! Then you will need to return to the link by refreshing your browser page and start over to get back to the splash page. Instead, click the back arrow in the navigation tool area as explained above to re-trace your steps (you can go forwards as well).

The Infrastructure map is the third map search option but we’re not going to explore this here. Experiment or check out the Cosmos tutorials.


The easiest way to explore a neighbourhood or to view a specific address is, as mentioned, to simply go to the Property Map view which, once you get to the property you are looking for, shows all layers including zoning, development applications (if any) and the pertinent Neighbourhood Concept Map context for that address.

Here’s how.

Click the property map button.


At the top, enter the address you are searching. For reference I am using the address of a house in my neighbourhood that was recently demolished so no one’s personal information (or house photos) will be an invasion of privacy. As you start to enter the address, the system will auto-populate the rest of the address. Select the correct address.


Now the magic happens! You are brought to a large scale map of the property, which is marked with the red diamond at 16493.


Before exploring the left sidebar, where all the recorded information about the property is, let’s review your viewing options as mentioned above. If you look at the top right corner, you can view the property as a recent aerial photo by changing the view from base map to aerial.


And of course you can zoom in as well.

You can also change the base map to Street View which is like Googlemap’s street view or Pictometry, which is a type of aerial image capture process that shows buildings not as an aerial photo, but from oblique angles. Nine times out of ten, the average person does not need to use the Pictometry filter, but you can view an official Cosmos tutorial for this application on the City website.

If you are looking for basic information, sometimes the base map is the best option so lets switch back to that for now.

The pertinent details of this type of search is in the left side bar. I’ve zoomed in on it so you can see.


You can see the Property Details including address, plan description, legal lot description.

The Plan year of 1992 tells you the date of when the building permit for this home was approved by City.

The size, predictably, tells you the size of the property.

If you click Assessment, you will get to a dropdown box which shows you the assessed value of the structure and land for a span of time, in this case from 2002 to the present. The “Improvements” are the cost of the structure and the relative increase in value it has had … Of course you can also see the exponential increase of the land value on the far right. (incidentally, should you be curious about searching property values in Surrey, there is an easier way: just visit the Resources page on the GHSA website which will connect you to the City’s Online Property Search.)

Anyhow, back to COSMOS:

Servicing details will tell you what sort of basic services this property receives.

The next two tabs NCP and OCP are going to tell you some of the most pertinent information about this property.


NCP details explains that the property is not located within an NCP, or Neighbourhood Concept Plan, area.

Why is it is important to know if a property is within or not part of an NCP? Because the NCP is the Council-approved planning blueprint, if you will, for that area. To find out more about the pertinent NCP for the property you are searching for (if it is in Grandview Heights) click this link. If the property is “not in NCP,” click this link to find out what Grandview Heights Area it is in.

The OCP or Official Community Plan details tells us that this property has a “suburban” zoning, and is designated RA which means Residential Acreage. The Planning Terms page of the Resources Section of the GHSA website can tell you more about what this means and what types of structures are allowed on it.

Finally, at the bottom of the sidebar, is a google street map of the house, which longer exists as of September 2014 – but happily that gorgeous silver birch tree and all other trees on the property do! Click the streetview and you will then see a pop-up window with a Googlemaps street view which will enable you to amble along the property’s street and beyond if you want to.


So that in a nutshell is how to complete a property search in Cosmos. This is a very basic search because we haven’t used any additional layers of mapping or explored any development applications.

Want to see more about what is happening in your neighbourhood? This is where COSMOS gets really interesting in the context of a basic property search.


We’ll still use this original property as ground zero for exploring the neighbourhood.

Zoom out a little to see the larger area. Or if you want to remain at the same scale as the map view you have started with, click pan then drag the map in any direction. I have zoomed out for the photo below and circled the original property of our search in red.


See the properties with long numbers on them?

Those are City of Surrey development application numbers.

The first two numerals of the number refers to the year the application was accepted at City Hall. So 14 refers to 2014, 89 refers to 1989 etcetera.

Generally speaking, If you add the numerals 79 to the entire number, you have the way in which the development application is filed and accessible online and at the City. There is more information on this in the Planning Process page of the Resources Section of the GHSA website.

Meanwhile, Lets take a wander around, focusing on properties with development application numbers.

Here is a property which I’ve marked with another red star. You will have to click the map to zoom out as it it was too wide to put on this page without reducing to an unreadable size.


After starring it, click where it reads in the left menu “Development Apps – All.


You can now see:

the project number,

the specifics of the application and its status,

and also notice that the property in question is now filled in red.

You can see the development application number: 14-0118-00 and details of the application. Before going further into that, though, lets find out whether this property is in an NCP (Neighbourhood Concept Plan) area. To do this, you need to go to the first tab called 1.Lots-Private and click it. This will drop down the menu with land use plan details.


By clicking the NCP details dropdown, you can see that this property is in the Orchard Grove NCP 5A area.

So although the land on the north side of this street is not in an NCP area (which we discovered when we searched the address of the demolished house) this one is, so it will have a Council-approved plan for it. If you were truly curious, you could then read the NCP document for Orchard Grove, Area 5A in the City Planning Documents section of this website.

However, back to COSMOS.

You can see that this land is zoned for Small Lot Single Family, with or without coachhouses in the NCP. Is this what the development application on this lot is seeking?

The summary says that there is an amendment to move a lane and habitat corridor, and a rezoning from RH (residential half-acre) to RF-10 and 12 lots – which are small single family lots. Therefore aside from an amendment to re-position a lane and habitat corridor, the application is seeking what the NCP has guidelined for this particular property area.

Minimize the Lot information to return to the Development Application information.


Further down this description, the status is “Conditional Approval” which means that this application has been approved by Council but that there are still some outstanding requirements to be fulfilled by the developer.

Want to learn more?

Click the weblink.


and here you have the most important details about this application.

  • its project number (and note, you can add the numbers 79 to this number and google it to view all City reports about it
  • the City Planner in charge of this application
  • the developer and contact information
  • and in the rezoning section, we do indeed see that this application has passed third reading in June, and the lot plan has been issued as of July 2014 (although this detail did not fit into the screen capture). For more on the application process itself you can click here.

There is always a wealth of information here in this section if you want to find out what is going on with developments in your neighbourhood.

Now, rather clicking “back to inquiry,” just exit out of the page at the top of your browser. Now you are back to where you started.

So in a nutshell, this is a re-cap of the most very basic way to use COSMOS: in particular, how to search an address, find out information about it, zoom in and out, and how to interpret properties with development applications on them.

Of course, this is just the tip of the COSMOS iceberg, so do view the many tutorials on the City of Surrey site which explore the other amazing things this resource can do.

Disclaimer: the GHSA cannot be held responsible for the hundreds of hours that you will now spend on Cosmos checking out your neighbourhood and all the nuances of our great City.