Zoning 101

Via City of Vancouver’s Regulation Redesign Project.


What is zoning and why should I care?

Zoning is a set of rules that determine what can and can’t be built in the city. Originally, zoning was used as a tool to protect the safety and public health of a community. Zoning separated land uses that wouldn’t work well together, such as polluting industries and residential areas. Today zoning still serves this purpose and it is also used to shape the places and communities in which we live, work, and play. Zoning works by dividing the city into different zones with different uses or what we call zoning districts. Zoning also regulates what buildings look like, including their size and height.

Vancouver zoning districts include residential, commercial, industrial, and historic areas. Every property in the city has a legal zoning designation. This determines how property can be used. Each of these zones has a specific set of rules that govern how the property can be used and what can be built there. For example, it tells you whether you can build a residence, or an office building, or both, and how big it can be.

Knowing a property’s zoning is very important to understanding what is allowed on the property and the type of buildings that can be constructed there. Along with uses, zoning also regulates many aspects of a property, such as building height. Zoning regulates how tall buildings or structures can be on a property. The location of a building on a property is determined by the front, rear, and side yard requirements. For example, in residential areas these rules make sure that front yards are provided, and in denser commercial areas they create space for wider sidewalks, places for people to gather, and trees to be planted.

Density sets limits on how many units can be built or how much space the building can take up on the property. Floor space ratio, or FSR. Density is measured by a term we call floor space ratio. FSR is the ratio of a building’s floor area to the size of the property on which it is built. The floor area of the building is divided by the site area to calculate the FSR. The number will designate how much floor area you can have in relation to the size of your lot. That floor area can be distributed in a variety of ways, influenced by how high the building can be and the yard requirements.

Knowing the rules is important because it lets you know what can and can’t be built on a property.

Learn more about zoning and land use rules online at: vancouver.ca/zoning

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