Provincial legislation - The Municipal Government Act (MGA) allows municipalities to control the development of land by means of municipal planning strategies, land use by-laws, and subdivision by-laws. Parts 8 & 9 of the MGA are the key sections devoted to planning and subdivision.
A municipal planning strategy (MPS) is a statement of Council's policies for growth and development of the municipality/town. The municipal planning strategy consists of policies, text and maps. Land use (zoning) and subdivision by-laws provide the regulations required to implement the policies of a municipal planning strategy. The land use by-law establishes zones, permitted uses for each zone, and standards for development - all based on policies contained in the municipal planning strategy. The subdivision by-law sets out requirements for subdividing land.
The Planning Department is responsible for the periodic review and update of the planning documents. The plan review process is extremely time-consuming, and involves a great deal of background research and public consultation, largely through public meetings.
Development Agreement/Land Use By-law Amendment Process
On an ongoing basis, between plan reviews, the Planning Department receives applications for development agreements or amendments to the planning documents. An amendment to the land use by-law (LUB) may take the form of a rezoning - a change to the zoning map - or a text amendment, perhaps to allow a new use in a zone or to change the requirements of a particular zone. A development agreement is a site-specific contract between Council and property owner which sets out the type and form of development which will be permitted on a property, as well as details such as landscaping, screening, architectural compatibility, parking, hours of operation, building size, and the like. Similar to a mortgage, a development agreement is registered against the title to the property and runs with the land regardless of changes in ownership. Development agreements are more flexible than traditional zoning and may allow Council to authorize a use which otherwise would not be permitted. They can only be used, however, when there is a specific policy in the municipal planning strategy that authorizes them.
Upon receipt of an application for a development agreement or land use by-law amendment, Planning staff prepare a report and recommendation to Planning Advisory Committee (PAC) that evaluates the proposal to determine whether it complies with the policies of the MPS and the regulations of the LUB. The MPS sets out matters which must be addressed when considering amendments or development agreements. This includes such matters as the potential impacts of the proposal on water supply, sewage disposal, schools, roads and traffic, neighbouring uses and costs to the municipal unit. PAC then reviews the staff report, considers and discusses the issues and makes a recommendation to Council. This recommendation may be the same as that of the Planning Department or it may differ, depending on how PAC views the issues and the impact of the proposal.
If PAC's recommendation is to approve the request, the matter proceeds to first reading by Council. This is an approval in principle which allows a public hearing date to be set. Council is not bound by the first reading when it comes time make the final decision at second reading. The Municipal Government Act provides that Council cannot approve the amendment or development agreement without first holding a public hearing. It can, however, deny the application without holding a public hearing. If a public hearing is scheduled, two notices must be published in the local newspaper with the first notice appearing at least 14 days before the date of the public hearing. All property owners within 300 feet of the property subject to the rezoning or development agreement must be notified of the hearing by mail. At the public hearing, Council considers the application, the report and recommendation of the Planning Department, the recommendation of the PAC, and written or oral presentations made at the hearing from interested persons who may either support or oppose the application. Following the public hearing, Council gives second reading to the amendment or development agreement and a decision is made. If Council approves the application, a notice of approval must be published in the local newspaper. Council's decision may be appealed to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (NSURB) within 14 days of the publication of this notice. If Council refuses to approve the application, the applicant has the right to appeal to the NSURB within 14 days of receiving written notice of the refusal.