Adaptation Options: Regulations


Zones provide the “rules” that govern the use and development of land in a community. Zoning maps divide the community into different districts based upon the types of uses that are permitted (for example - residential, commercial, or industrial). Then, within each zone the ordinance specifies the design requirements that govern development (e.g., setbacks, building heights, building densities). Local or provincial governments can amend their zoning regulations to designate areas that are vulnerable to climate change and impose special regulations on those areas. Special regulations could prohibit or limit expansion or major renovation to existing structures and rebuilding of damaged structures. Governments could create zones based upon their adaptation goals (protection, accommodation, or retreat).


Setbacks / Buffers

These require that development be set back a distance from the shoreline or floodplain and / or require landowners to leave, in their natural state, portions of property that support natural and beneficial functions (such as wetlands that prevent runoff and flooding).

Governments can establish or increase mandatory setbacks from the coast, establish setbacks based upon projected shoreline position using calculations of increased flood and/or erosion rates, or create a tiered setback system permitting smaller structures with less of a setback and requiring greater setbacks for larger development. Governments could require that development adjacent to the shore leave buffers to provide natural protection to development while allowing for upland migration of beaches and wetlands.

Developments Agreements

These require developers to develop detailed designs and plans that are reviewed and approved through negotiation.

Government can adopt bylaws that allow such negotiation. This gives considerable flexibility to address a broad range of issues regarding environmental protection, natural hazards and other concerns. The developer may be asked to consider and adopt appropriate hazard mitigation strategies including setbacks and minimum height above sea level.

Subdivision Development

Subdivisions are created when a developer wants to divide a parcel of land, often for residential development. Generally, subdivision plans must demonstrate good access and efficient utility service for the proposed lots and also address concerns about financial, environmental and other impacts.

Subdivision regulation can be used to address development risks, like erosion and flooding. It can be used to prevent or establish conditions for development in areas at risk due to climate change. Conditions to minimize climate change impacts and discourage inappropriate development could include:

  • shoreline protection systems designed by qualified professionals and built to incorporate climate change,
  • removal of coastal structures that flood as the shoreline moves landward,
  • coastal coastal buffers, and
  • impact fees to pay for emergency response costs.

Covenants and Easements

Covenants and easements are formal agreements that place restrictions on land use or grant a person (or the public) the right to use land owned by someone else. Both covenants and easements remain with the property and bind current as well as future owners.

Covenants and easements can play an important role in climate change adaptation planning. They can be used to prevent development on vulnerabile land (e.g. conservation easement) or to limit or prohibit the construction of hard-coastal armoring in order to allow marshes and dunes to migrate inland naturally.

Buildings Codes and Resilient Design Building codes govern how buildings are constructed. Regulation of building construction in Canada generally follows the National Building Code with provincial variations and local additions.

Building codes can be used to avoid exposure to hazards prior to the construction of a building. Local bylaws or provincial regulations can be developed that ensure greater protection from climate change. These changes could include, e.g.:

  • elevation of structures in coastal and inland floodplains,
  • specification of construction materials (e.g. sewer backwater valves, rook-wall connectors, etc),
  • service equipment installation
  • hurricane straps for roofs.

Rebuilding Restrictions

These restrictions limit a property owner’s ability to rebuild structures destroyed by natural hazards, such as erosion or flooding.

Governments can limit when and how structures are rebuilt by prohibiting reconstruction, requiring that structures be rebuilt using resilient design techniques or more substantial setbacks.

Hard and Soft Armouring Permits Governments regulate the construction of structures that provide flood and erosion control or protection. These can include hard structures (breakwaters) or soft structures that replenish or mimic natural buffers (beach nourishment, wetlands).

In areas with considerable existing development or critical infrastructure, hard structures may be required. In this circumstance, governments can ensure they are designed by qualified professionals and constructed to protect against more intense storm surge combined with increased sea levels. Governments could also create permitting programs to require the use of soft-armoring techniques where feasible in order to lessen environmental impacts of shoreline armouring.

Date modified: 2022-12-06