How do municipalities manage growth and development?
Municipal planning affects Albertans’ day-to-day lives. It also shapes how our communities grow, look and function. The Municipal Government Act (MGA) provides a framework for municipalities to manage growth and development through their statutory plans and land use bylaws.
Statutory plans and land use bylaws help with local planning and economic growth by setting clear expectations for business, industry and citizens on how an area will grow over time. A well-planned community fosters strong economic and social environments, contributing to a more competitive Alberta.
Municipal statutory plans and land use bylaws must comply with:
- The Land Use Policies adopted under the MGA
- Any regional plans created under the Alberta Land Stewardship Act
- Any growth management plans (e.g., the Capital Region Growth Plan) that are adopted under legislation or intermunicipal agreement
- Any other legislation (e.g., Water Act)
Statutory plans ensure municipal growth is responsible and sustainable. Statutory plans define a municipality’s vision for how its land will be developed and used. The MGA outlines four types of statutory plans for a municipality to prepare.
1. Municipal development plan
Municipal development plans outline a plan for the entire municipality that addresses the current and future needs of their communities, including land use, transportation systems, municipal services and environmental considerations. A municipal development plan is required for municipalities that have a population that exceeds 3,500 or more.
2. Intermunicipal development plan
An intermunicipal development plan may be developed by two or more neighbouring municipalities to ensure that development within an area reflects their mutual interests. An intermunicipal development plan must identify a process for dispute resolution.
3. Area structure plan
Municipalities may use an area structure plan for developing an area of land within the municipality. Unlike other statutory plans, an area structure plan may be prepared by a land developer or municipality. An area structure plan must identify:
- The development sequence
- Land uses for the area (e.g., green spaces, parks, residential, commercial, industrial)
- The area’s population density
- Locations of major transportation routes and public utilities
4. Area redevelopment plan
A municipality may develop an area redevelopment plan for a designated area for a number of reasons, including:
- Preserving land and buildings
- Constructing or replacing buildings
- Improving roads
- Collecting redevelopment levies
Municipalities must hold a public hearing before approving any type of statutory plan.
Land use bylaws
Under the MGA, all municipalities are required to adopt a land use bylaw, which:
- Divides the municipality into districts
- Prescribes the uses of land
- Establishes development standards for each district
- Provides for a system for issuing development permits
Alberta Land Stewardship Act
The Alberta Land Stewardship Act was enacted in 2009 to provide the legislative framework to plan for the future needs of Albertans and manage growth, while respecting existing property rights.
As regional plans are developed and adopted under Alberta Land Stewardship Act, municipalities will need to align their statutory plans and land use bylaws with any land use policies within the regional plans.
Growth management plans
In 2008, the Capital Region Board Regulation was created and it defined matters for the region’s growth plan to address, the process for approving the plan and actions to be taken by Capital Region Board’s municipalities to adhere to the plan. The province approved the Capital Region Growth Plan in 2010. Recent amendments to the MGA created a framework for growth management plans to be voluntarily created in other areas of the Province.
Who can build and develop
Municipalities plan how their communities will grow, and they monitor ongoing development to ensure their plans are implemented appropriately.
The physical development of communities is often initiated by land developers, industry, citizens and others who wish to develop a site. Any proposed development within a municipality must be reviewed by the municipality to ensure that it is permitted through the municipality’s statutory plans and land use bylaws.
When land is being developed, Alberta municipalities consider the current and future needs of their citizens. That is why, when planning how to use its land, a municipality may dedicate portions of land for roads and utilities or as reserve land for public uses. There are five types of reserves:
- Municipal reserve
- School reserve
- Municipal and school reserve
- Environmental reserve
- Community services reserve
The MGA outlines the percentage of land that can be dedicated as reserve land and what the land for each type of reserve land can be used for.
Municipal reserve, school reserve and municipal and school reserve can be used for a public park, recreation area, school board purposes or to separate lands that are used for different purposes (e.g., as a buffer).
Environmental reserve is typically land that contains a swamp, gully, ravine, coulee, a natural drainage course, unstable or subject to flooding, or adjacent to the bed and shore of any water body. This type of reserve must remain in its natural state or be used as a public park.
Community services reserve is the only type of reserve land that is not dedicated during the land development process. Instead, community services reserve can be dedicated if a school board declares that a reserve parcel is no longer required for school purposes. Community services reserve can be used for a public library, police station, fire station, ambulance services, non-profit day care, non-profit senior citizens or special needs facility, affordable housing or for a municipal facility that provides service directly to the public.
Occasionally, municipalities must change their plans. Learn why and how municipalities change their land use plans.