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Zoning - A Complicated Maze of Information

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Today I want to talk about zoning.  As a real estate agent I am supposed to have a basic understanding of lots of things that pertain to real estate and one of those things is zoning.  Buyers and sellers rely on me to be informed in this regard and my failure to give them appropriate guidance could mean a costly mistake.  So how difficult can it be to figure out of if the intended use and development of the property is permitted under the zoning bylaws.  Let me tell you, it is not quite as simple as one might think. 

In my market area, to have a basic understanding of zoning one must first acknowledge that we have 6 different governing bodies and each with their own rules.  There is the City of Lake Cowichan, City of Duncan, City of Ladysmith, Municipality of North Cowichan, Cowichan Valley Regional District and heading north I may wander into an area governed by the Nanaimo Regional District.  So now I need to figure out which area the subject property is governed by in order to provide any insight into zoning bylaws.  

Let's say my client wants a property that allows her to have a cottage in addition to her main residence.  Maybe it is my lucky day and she is only interested in properties in the Cowichan Valley Regional District south of Duncan.  South of Duncan there are four separate areas within the CVRD - and each of those has separate rules depending upon things like the zoning classification, services available (water and sewer) and size of the property.  My buyer has found her dream home.  I check the zoning and it states that a small suite is permitted in addition to the main residence.  In some areas in the CVRD the wording will state an accessory dwelling unit and not a small suite but they are essentially the same thing.  The property is on a CVRD run water system but sewage disposal is by septic.  Things are looking great.  The zoning says she can have her suite.  She is very excited and wants to make an offer.  Not so fast.  When you look at zoning and it says a small suite is permitted the next thing you need to do is dig deeper into definitions and general regulations that will outline another list of rules and requirements.  You might find that a small suite is permitted, but only on a parcel that meets a minimum parcel size.  Let's say her dream property does meet the minimum parcel size.  Great.  Time for an offer?  Not yet.  What happens if the authority providing the water hook up only has so much capacity (allowable homes on the system) and it is full?  If that is the case she will not obtain a building permit for her cottage until the water system has been upgraded to provide additional capacity.  I have simplified this example and other things may come into play that would also prohibit the building of the suite.  I will save some of those problems for another blog. 

 If you have a very specific use for a property your agent can give you some guidance in reviewing and looking at the Zoning Bylaws.  However, real estate agents are not experts in all fields and you should seek direct advice from the planners and builders at the appropriate authority before making an offer.  If you cannot do it before then you should include an appropriate subject condition in your offer that allows you to do your due diligence.