The Property Development/Rezoning Process

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Development applications in Surrey are handled by the Planning and Development Department.

Every property in Surrey has a legal zoning classification specifying the types of buildings allowed on that property, the types of uses or activities that can take place on that property, restrictions on the floor area and height of buildings, minimum distances separating buildings and property lines, the amount of off-street parking required, as well as other requirements.

The purpose of zoning is to ensure that specific types of land uses (e.g. industrial) are located in appropriate areas and that the types of buildings or land uses on one property will not conflict with surrounding properties. Zoning maps showing the zoning category for each property in Surrey are available at the Planning & Development Department. Copies of Surrey Zoning By-law No. 12000, which contains development regulations for each zoning category, are available at the City Clerk’s office. Excerpts of Zoning By-law No. 12000 are available at the Planning & Development Department

Rezoning is the process of legally changing the zoning category of a property. Before any development takes place on a property, whether it be constructing new buildings, or changing the types of uses or activities that occur on that property, the owner of the property should first check the existing zoning regulations for that property. If the proposed development is not permitted by the existing zoning, the property owner (or agent of the property owner) will have to apply to the City of Surrey for a change in the zoning category of that property.

Here is a flow chart indicating the different steps of the property rezoning process. More detail is provided below.

planning process

Pre-notification stage

Before the green development sign goes up, a developer must satisfy the Planning Department’s pre-application information. This includes a number of criteria including the how well the development fulfills the zoning and mandates of the Official Community Plan, Secondary Use Plans (such as Neighbourhood Concept Plans – NCPs), engineering, sustainability plans and so forth. These are the types of criteria that will affect rezoning and development of property:

Official Community Plan – Surrey’s Official Community Plan divides the City into 12 land use designations. Each designation allows specific types of land uses and zoning categories. Check the Official Community Plan for the designation of your property and the land uses or zoning allowed within that designation.

Local Area Plans and Neighbourhood Concept Plans provide detailed plans for specific area of Surrey. Check to see if your property is located within one of these areas, and if so, what land use and zoning is planned.

Zoning By-law and Maps – Zoning maps show the existing zoning of your property. Refer to Surrey Zoning By-law No. 12000 to see the zoning and regulations necessary for your project.

Guidelines for Residential Character Studies and Building Schemes – See the Planning & Development Information sheet titled, “Designing Neighbourly Homes”.

Engineering Services – Surrey’s Subdivision By-law requires all developments to meet specific requirements for sanitary sewer, storm water disposal, water supply, roads and other utilities. Check at the Engineering Department to see if the required services are available, or if additional servicing is required for your development.

Click here to see the OCP, the Grandview Heights General Use Plan and the many NCPs that guide the zoning of Grandview Heights.GLUP GHSA lg 2

If you live within 100 metres of a proposed development border, you  will also receive a pre-notification letter. This letter typically informs you about details of a potential development, the most important aspect of which is the zoning and land use type. If you do not live within 100 metres of the development you may not even know about a pending development even after the green sign is erected depending on where the sign is posted. (In Grandview Heights homes have typically been on acreage/foreted properties, it is easy to miss both a pre-notification and a visual of the green sign once it is erected.)

The best way to find out what is happening in your neigbourhood is to check in with COSMOS. Our easy-to-use guide shows you how to view your neighbourhood from above and, noting the new development application number, find out more about it.

The Planning Department is large, so individual applications are assigned to different planners, depending on their area of knowledge. At this stage, you will see the name of the planner in charge of the application on the City of Surrey interface to COSMOS and he/she will become your primary City contact.

During the pre-notification period (or at any time in the next decade as Grandview Heights is actively developed) it is a good time to familiarize yourself with the City of Surrey’s online mapping system COSMOS to see what is going on around you. This amazing resource is simple to use. Click here for this resource.

Quite often during the pre-notification period a developer will offer to hold an information meeting and will provide contact information so you can comment if you have questions or concerns about the proposed development. Usually at this stage a site plan is not mailed out so these meetings are important to attend. Depending on the feedback a developer and the Planning Department receives about the application at this phase, either adjustments are made or the application goes to the next level which is the active phase when the green sign is erected. If you and/or your neighbours have concerns at this stage and need support, you can use GHSA resources to get organized and interpret the issues, if any.

The applicant/ developer rezoning a property needs to provide the following information before the initial review stage:

      • The property owner’s name and address. If someone is applying on behalf of the property of the owner, a Letter of Authorization must be signed by all property owner(s) and submitted with the development permit application. A standard Letter of Authorization is part of the application form.
      • The civic address and legal description of the property.
      • The current zoning and the proposed zoning for the property.
      • A brief description of your proposed development and a project data sheet showing the detailsof the proposal; for example, site area, number of units, floor area, setbacks, densities, etc.
      • A Soil Contamination Review Questionnaire to determine if the site requires a Site Profilereview.

Initial review/Active/”Green Sign” Application Stage

Once the sign goes up, the application is active. The development application will be given a number. For example: 12 0323 will be the application number while the development is in the initial review stage.  The first two digits refer to the year the application is filed. When a Planning Report is written for this application as it approaches first/second reading in Council, then the digits 79 are placed in front of it. The application is now searchable by Googling 7912-0323-00.

During this phase, the Planning Department accepts letters and emails from anyone with an interest in the application. It is recommended that residents who have an issue about a particular development not engage with the developer directly, but through the Planning Department or as part of a neighbourhood delegation.

The GHSA is here to provide resources. Depending on the scope of the issue, the development, at the request of concerned members, may become one of our Priority Actions. In this case, information about the development will be posted on this website. Members of the association can also write their own reactions to it on the GHSA blog. In every case it is essential to be aware of the zoning for the area according to the relevant NCP if one exists. Click here to see the NCPs and relevant land use plans for Grandview Heights.

Interpretation of zoning and the Secondary Use Plans (such as NCPs) can be complicated.  It is also useful to understand some of the basic terms and principles of urban planning. Click here for the glossary.

During initial review tree cutting/arborist reports must be undertaken.  If trees are to be removed from the property, a tree removal permit is required, depending on the size, species and location of trees being removed. Please refer to the “Developer’s Guide to the Tree Preservation By-law”.

The Planning Report to Council

The application process proceeds from active (when your letters/emails/meetings help both the Planning Department and the developer understand your concerns – if any – about the development) to the phase signified by the Planning Report to Council, written by the Planning Department. In the Planning Report, the Planning Department assimilates the input of other relevant City departments (such as Engineering, Parks, Schools, Heritage) and finalizes its recommendations to City Council about the application. Resident/neighbourhood reaction to the application is important to this report and is included in an abstract. If you have specific reports or letters you wish to have included in the report, you must specifically request this. The Planning Department notes responses/suggestions from neighbours as the City must ensure that new development occurs with the needs and desires of the existing neighbourhood in so far as the mandates of the pertinent NCP is being met. The Planning Report is written to advise Mayor and Council of many things including the appropriateness of the rezoning application for the land. Planning Department can elect to recommend or not recommend a rezoning application to be considered by Council based on the many variables that it needs to consider while writing the report and going through the process with the applicant, residents, and other City professionals and agencies.

All Planning Reports to Council are archived on the City website. Current applications (as noted on our Current Applications/Priority Concerns page are always linked to the pertinent report once it is made available. For older reports of applications that have passed third reading, click here.

First/Second Reading

Planning Reports can be posted as late as the Friday before the Regular Council – Land Use Meeting. This means you may have the weekend only to write letters and emails to Council if you still have objections to the application. On the Friday before Council meets, the agenda for the Land Use meeting is posted on the City website . On the scheduled Monday, the report is introduced in the General Land Use Committee Meeting in chambers at City Hall. This is a public meeting which occurs around 5:45 pm and can be attended in person, watched online, on television, or viewed after the event on the City of Surrey website. The Planning Department at this time recommends that City Council award the application first and second reading. First reading introduces the application to Council. Second reading gives the application a green light to go to the Public Hearing stage. They are typically passed during the same Council Land Use meeting. If the application receives first and second reading, then a date for a Public Hearing is set.

It is rare but possible for Council to refuse first and second reading eventhough Planning’s  Report recommends the application. In this case, if neighbourhood opposition to the application is noticeable or relevant enough to Council, or if other concerns are raised to Council in addition to or outside of the Planning Report, the application will be sent back to Planning staff for further consultation. At this juncture, the developer has the option of closing an application if it is not possible to amend the issues relating to its refusal of first and second reading. More often, further work on the application is carried out as per the directions of Council. This could include, but is not limited to, more investigation into engineering, tree retention, development design, density etc. If after further work with Planning staff and/or neighbours (depending on the issue) the application is ready to be heard again by Council, an “Additional Planning Comments” Report is issued and the process of approaching first and second reading is renewed. Notification is made on the City website of the date of the first and second reading in the “Referred Back” section of the Land Use meeting agenda. If you are working with your neighbours on an application, the Planner who is your main contact typically gives you an indication of when the application will be heard again by Council for first and second reading. Once first and second reading are passed, a date is set for the Public Hearing. Public Hearing notices are posted here on the City website.

Public Hearing/Third Reading

All rezoning by-laws are subject to a statutory Public Hearing held before City Council in the Council Chambers. The owners and occupants of all properties and occupants located within 100 metres of the subject property are formally notified. However, any person who deems their interests may be affected by the development proposal has the opportunity to express their concerns to Council.

The Public Hearing is typically several weeks after the passing of first and second reading (or in essence at the next council meeting, or one not too far in the future, after the one when first and second reading was passed).  Public hearing provides an opportunity for residents and consultants to express their opinions about a development application.

Anyone can attend. Public hearings are held in Council Chambers at City Hall at 7 PM on the prescribed Monday night as part of the three types of council meetings held. You can attend to observe and/or to speak at a public hearing.  Register at the front desk in the foyer of City Hall whether you are in support or in opposition to the application. At this time, you can also register to speak in public about the application to City Council, bringing with you photos or relevant documents to display. There is an overhead projector available. If you have documents or photos to share at the public hearing you ask the Mayor (the chairperson of the meeting) if you can pass them to Staff who will register them into the meeting and proceed to place them on the projector at your request.

Depending on the path that the application has taken with you, your neighbours, and other interested parties, the Public Hearing event can be a positive or stressful occasion.  It can be intimidating to speak before Council and a gallery of viewers — and on camera! — but keep in mind that as a resident of Surrey, you have every right to be there and that City Hall is your house built by and paid for with taxpayer dollars. The Legislative Services department of the City posts suggestions for Public Hearing presentations here. If you cannot attend a Public Hearing but have an opinion about an application, you can email a letter to Mayor and the individual members of Council to be registered. This letter is best sent to the City Clerk and Council members by 4 pm on the Friday prior to the Public Hearing. You can also call and leave a voicemail with your opposition or support of the application.

Should you be unable to attend a Public Hearing that you are interested in, these meetings are livestreamed on the City of Surrey website, are on cable TV (check your local listings), are usually live-tweeted,  and can be re-watched on the City website later at this link. Council minutes are also posted by the City Clerk after a Public Hearing. Because, practically, not every nuance of a delegation to a Public Hearing can be transcribed, it is recommended to restrict comments only to the application at hand and to be as concise as possible. You can register to speak at the Public Hearing at the beginning of the meeting in the foyer of City Hall or, when the Mayor calls for any other speakers, once all the delegations on the list have spoken, you can raise your hand and go up to the podium.  The protocol of speaking at a public hearing is to state your name and address then proceed with your points. If you’re speaking about a land-use issue, then stick to the issue.

There are three outcomes to a Public Hearing. After all public hearing items are heard Council then deliberates and votes on them towards the end of the Regular Council meeting.

The application can be accepted by Council, denied, or referred back to Planning Staff for further consultation. If the application is accepted, it is granted 3rd reading. An application with third reading approval then has to pass 4th reading, but this is not part of the public process.  Typically conditions for the developer need to be reached, engineering changes, financing issues,  tweaks related more to the actual physical creation of the site to be rezoned and less with the principles and justifications for the rezoning (which are taken into consideration at the Public Hearing/ 3rd reading event). It can take some months for an application to reach 4th reading. 4th Reading occurs in the Regular Land Use Meeting of Council.

If an application is denied, then no further steps are taken. If an application is referred back to Planning, then either the developer, the neighbours (or both) and Planning need to address the issues that Council recommended about the application.

In the experience of members of the GHSA, once an application reaches Public Hearing it is usually too late to constructively affect the outcome of a development if you want it changed. The developer invests much time and money into the application and the Planning Department cannot afford to recommend applications that City Council are, for one reason or another, merely going to refer back to the department for further work. The time to become active in discovering more about a potential development is in the pre-notification period, or failing that, at the time that the green sign first goes up. The more opportunity for studying the application, for reading the NCP that the proposed development is in, for talking to residents who will be affected by the development, for writing to Planning and Mayor/Council and for booking meetings at City Hall to discuss your concerns, the better the outcome.

When an application is sound, agreed upon by all the neighbourhood residents and complies with the reality and expectations of taxpayers with regards to its contribution to neighbourhood character, then a Public Hearing is a reason to celebrate. However, if for whatever reason you have issue with any aspect of an application and need it explained or examined, the best time for you and your neighbours to express your needs is in the initial review period.

 Development Variance Permit

Not all but some reason rezoning/ development applications require development variance permits. These are exactly as sounds; permits to very from a particular aspect of a rezoning bylaw. DVPs allow for relaxations to provisions set out in existing City by-laws, such as the Zoning By-law, the Subdivision and Development By-law and the Sign By-law. A DVP cannot be used to vary land use or density. An example of a DVP would be too widen a building lot within a certain zone or  adjust parking, for instance. A DVP is typically pursued once an application has reached third reading/ final adoption and before fourth reading/ building permit stage. Development variance permits are presented to Council in the latter half of Regular Council Public Hearing meetings.  The public cannot speak to a DVP but can submit comments in writing for Council’s consideration.

Fourth Reading

After 3rd reading is granted, the application goes to 4th reading. There is no public consultation or access to the application after 3rd reading, and is an internal process. After reaching forth reading a building permit is issued and site prep and construction begins.  Not until after fourth reading is reached can the green development proposal sign be removed from the property.

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Again, here are the steps for development application approval:

      1. Pre-notification (letter to residents within 100 metres) or email to GHSA members regardless of proximity
      1. Active: Green Sign
      1. First and Second Reading
      1. Public Hearing/ Third reading (final adoption)
      1. Fourth reading (building permit issued/site prep and construction begins)

Please use these resources:

info@grandviewstewardship.org (email if you have questions about this process)

COSMOS  (to use this service, you will need to install a program onto your computer called Silverlight. The City website  will prompt you to do this. View the GHSA tutorial on researching a property address on  COSMOS here.

Governing Land Use documents

Surrey City Council (names and email links)

Planning & Development Department (general)

Clerks/ Legislative Services Department. Clerks@surrey.ca 

City of Surrey Council Meeting Agendas

City of Surrey Council Minutes (Regular Council,Land Use, Public Hearing)

City of Surrey Council Broadcasts (click the calendar/type of meeting to see the broadcast)