Retaining Walls & Fences

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March 15, 2023 - Council Adopts New Retaining Wall Regulations

The Municipality of North Cowichan has adopted new retaining wall regulations, effective March 15, 2023. The changes to zoning and building bylaws are intended to make it easier to install low retaining walls without permits or other Municipal approvals while also establishing regulations for taller retaining walls that could impact privacy and safety.

The new regulations encompass:

• height restrictions in line with fence height regulations

• measurement criteria

• regulations for retaining walls combined with fences

• building permits and engineering required for walls taller than 1.2 metres

• specifications for terraced retaining walls and guard rails




March 15, 2023 - Council Adopts New Retaining Wall Regulations

The Municipality of North Cowichan has adopted new retaining wall regulations, effective March 15, 2023. The changes to zoning and building bylaws are intended to make it easier to install low retaining walls without permits or other Municipal approvals while also establishing regulations for taller retaining walls that could impact privacy and safety.

The new regulations encompass:

• height restrictions in line with fence height regulations

• measurement criteria

• regulations for retaining walls combined with fences

• building permits and engineering required for walls taller than 1.2 metres

• specifications for terraced retaining walls and guard rails




  • February 21, 2023 - Council Meeting

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    The retaining wall bylaws were brought back for amendments in response to feedback from the public meeting and for third reading.

    Click here to see the meeting.

    Following MOTI signoff these bylaws will be returned to Council for to consider adoption at an upcoming meeting.

  • Public Hearing Video Presentation - January 18, 2023

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    Public Hearing

    The public hearing for retaining walls was on January 18, 2023. Thank you to everyone who came out to speak or submitted comments. Click here to review the meeting minutes.

    Check out the discussion, public input, and Council discussion in the video link below:


    To read the minutes from the meeting, click here.

  • Council Meeting: December 21, 2022

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    COUNCIL DECISION:

    At the December 21, 2022 Council Meeting, Council moved and seconded the following bylaws:

    • Zoning Bylaw Amendment Bylaw 3891 (Retaining Walls & Fences)
    • Building Bylaw Amendment Bylaw 3892 (Retailing Walls)

    IT WAS MOVED AND SECONDED:

    THAT Council:

    (1) Give first and second reading to “Zoning Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 3891”;

    (2) Direct staff to arrange a Public Hearing for “Zoning Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No.

    3891”; and,

    (3) Give first, second and third readings to “Building Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No.

    3892”.



  • Report to Council: December 21, 2022

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    PURPOSE

    To introduce “Zoning Bylaw Amendment Bylaw (Retaining Walls & Fences) No. 3891” (Attachment 1) and “Building Bylaw Amendment Bylaw (Retaining Walls) No. 3892” (Attachment 2) for Council’s consideration of initial readings.


    BACKGROUND

    North Cowichan’s staff routinely handle development proposals, building permit applications and inquiries that include the construction of retaining walls. These inquiries are not uncommon as the area has mountainous topography which result in recurrent construction challenges.

    Section 2 of the Building Bylaw specifically excludes retaining walls from the permitting process. While this exclusion is appropriate for the construction of smaller retaining walls incorporated into residential landscaping, it has resulted in the unregulated construction of retaining walls, some of which were undertaken without engineering review or supervision. In turn, the zoning bylaw provides little assistance in that retaining walls are neither defined nor explicitly regulated.

    To illustrate why this lack of regulation is problematic, zoning bylaw section 33.1 “Projections into Required Yards/Setbacks” requires setback areas to be kept free of buildings and structures in order to maintain relatively unimpeded access around buildings, along with “breathing space” to adjoining neighbours. This is particularly important if there are any rights-of-way present for infrastructure where at any time the rights-holder may need to excavate to inspect and repair access roads, water or drainage lines. While in many cases the addition of a retaining wall in these locations is harmless, they are thus implicitly regulated through this provision, currently requiring a development variance permit in all cases for the placement of a retaining wall within a setback. Regulating retaining walls explicitly within the zoning bylaw can make provisions for placement within setbacks under certain conditions which would in turn lead to fewer instances where a variance is required.

    In addition to the above concern, with no clear or transparent regulations in effect, consistent interpretation is difficult to provide and as a result, it has led to the following concerns/consequences:

    • lack of aesthetic appeal (unsightly)
    • overused throughout neighbourhoods
    • unnatural manipulation of land to get around height restrictions to construct taller homes
    • falling hazard created
    • lack of privacy between neighbours when in close proximity
    • danger of wall failure when constructed without qualified professional oversight

    As such, staff propose amendments to the Zoning and Building Bylaws that aim to:

    • provide clear and transparent regulatory direction (plain language with visual aids) relating to retaining walls and associated regulations
    • add retaining wall regulations into the Building Bylaw where none existed before and harmonize the building and zoning bylaws.
    • create departmental efficiencies by reducing the volume of variance applications received (for retaining walls located in setbacks) and bylaw enforcement files to free up staff time and resources
    • align retaining wall best practices requirements with neighbouring jurisdictions

    While this issue could be addressed as part of the comprehensive zoning bylaw update to be undertaken in 2023, given its relatively self-contained nature and the detailed work completed to date, staff are in a position to bring this forward to Council ahead of that project. This is an opportunity to provide clarity in the near term to an issue that has confused and frustrated landowners and builders and has consumed inordinate staff time.

    DISCUSSION

    A. Proposed Amendment to Zoning Bylaw No. 2950

    The proposed amendment to Zoning Bylaw No. 2950 is specific to three areas of the bylaw: ‘Part 3 – Definitions’, ‘Part 4 – General Regulations’ and ‘Part 5, Division 2 – Zones’. No other amendments are being recommended at this time; although as part of the upcoming general zoning bylaw revision, there may be further opportunities to refine the approach to retaining walls, including addressing design aspects within the development permit guidelines. The amendments are as follows:

    1) Proposed amendments to ‘Part 3 – Definitions’ include:

    a) Amend definitions: “fence”, “retaining wall” and “structure”

    b) Add new definition: “guardrail”

    2) Proposed amendments to ‘Part 4 – General Regulations’ include:

    a) Amend ‘Section 37 - Fences’ to ‘Section 37 - Fence & Retaining Walls’

    b) Add new section ‘37.1 Fences’ to introduce both new and amended fence regulations

    c) Add new section ‘37.2 Retaining Walls’ to introduce new retaining wall regulations

    The proposed regulatory amendments provide for the placement of retaining walls within setbacks under certain conditions without the need for a variance. They also anticipate situations such as where a property owner builds a retaining wall that easily overlooks into the neighbour’s yard and provide for the affected property owner to determine their maximum fence height from the top of the neighbouring retaining wall (as opposed to grade level on their own parcel), thus mitigating a potential privacy issue.

    3) Proposed amendment to ‘Part 5, Division 2 - Zones’ includes:

    a) Amend ‘Conditions of Use’ in all zones to exclude fence height restrictions

    At present, fence height restrictions (if applicable) are included in each zone’s ‘Conditions of Use’ section, however, with the introduction of a ‘Fence Height Restrictions by Zone and Yard Location’ table in the general regulations, fence height restrictions can be removed from each zone, making the bylaw more concise.

    B. Proposed Amendment to Building Bylaw No. 3172

    To address the issue of inadequately constructed retaining walls, and to ensure the building and zoning bylaws are consistent with each other, the following amendments are proposed to Building Bylaw No. 3172 and are specific to three areas of that bylaw: ‘Part 2 – Application’, ‘Part 3 – Definitions’ and the introduction of ‘Part 19.2 - Retaining wall building permits’:

    1) Proposed amendment to ‘Part 2 – Application’ includes:

    a) The removal of ‘Section 2.2.b’ which states “This bylaw does not apply to retaining structures’.

    2) Proposed amendments to ‘Part 3 – Definitions’ include:

    a) Addition of new definition: “retaining wall”

    b) Amend definition: “structure” consistent with the proposed zoning bylaw definition change

    3) Proposed addition to ‘Part 19’ that includes:

    a) Adding the new section ‘Part 19.2 Retaining Wall Building Permit’ that seeks to introduce new retaining wall regulations in the Building Bylaw.

    These amendments would mean that a building permit is now required for any retaining wall greater than 1.2 m in height. This is considered necessary from a safety standpoint. No other amendments are being recommended at this time.

    C. Summary

    In the interest of creating clear and easy-to-understand regulations for retaining walls, amendments to “Zoning Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 3891” and “Building Bylaw Amendment No. 3892” are proposed for Council’s consideration.

    While the Building Bylaw amendment follows the usual bylaw adoption process as per s. 135 of the Community Charter, s.464 the Local Government Act prescribes a different adoption process for zoning bylaws that include a public hearing. If and when a public hearing has been held for the Zoning Bylaw amendment, Council can then proceed to third reading of that bylaw, and if given, can then adopt both the Zoning Bylaw and Building Bylaw Amendment Bylaws at the same time.

    OPTIONS

    1. (Recommended Option) THAT Council:

    (1) Gives first and second reading to “Zoning Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 3891” to amend the Municipality of North Cowichan’s Zoning Bylaw No. 2950;

    (2) Directs staff to arrange a Public Hearing for “Zoning Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 3891”; AND

    (3) Gives first, second and third readings to “Building Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 3892” to amend the Municipality of North Cowichan’s Building Bylaw No. 3172.

    2. THAT Council defers initial readings of bylaws “Zoning Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 3891” & “Building Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 3892” and requests additional information or substantial regulatory changes:

    THAT staff be directed to provide [information to be identified by Council] and return draft bylaws “Zoning Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 3891” & “Building Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 3892” for consideration at a future meeting.

    3. THAT Council declines to read bylaws “Zoning Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 3891” & “Building Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 3892” and provides alternative direction to staff on whether or how to proceed with retaining wall regulation:

    THAT Council declines to give first reading to bylaws “Zoning Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 3891” & “Building Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 3892” [and directs staff to … Council to identify]

    IMPLICATIONS

    Implications

    Concerns or Impacts to North Cowichan

    Financial

    N/A

    Policy/Legislation

    While this prefigures the comprehensive zoning bylaw update, it does not preclude revisiting this issue as part of that process, nor does it prejudice that process.

    Strategic Priority

    N/A

    Sustainability

    N/A

    Communication

    If adopted, information will be shared on multiple platforms: Retaining Wall project page, Facebook post, North Cowichan website, and as part of the ongoing Building Department email newsletters series that are sent out to the development community. In addition, a hardcopy informational fact sheet will be made available at the front counter of the Planning & Building Department.

    Staffing implications

    These amendments will result in a small increase in building permit applications; however, this would be more than offset by a reduction in the number of retaining wall variance applications.


    RECOMMENDATION

    (1) Gives first and second reading to “Zoning Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 3891” to amend the Municipality of North Cowichan’s Zoning Bylaw No. 2950;

    (2) Directs staff to arrange a Public Hearing for “Zoning Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 3891”; AND

    (3) Gives first, second and third readings to “Building Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 3892” to amend the Municipality of North Cowichan’s Building Bylaw No. 3172.


    Report prepared by: Report reviewed by:

    Patricia Taylor Rob Conway

    Planner Director, Planning and Building



  • Proposed Changes to Zoning Bylaw: Fences

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    NOTE: CLICK ON TITLE TO REVIEW WITH DIAGRAMS

    ZONING BYLAW: FENCES


    Existing: SECTION 37 FENCES

    (1) There is no maximum height for fences unless otherwise specified in a zone as set out in this Bylaw.

    (2) Fence height shall be determined measuring vertically from the average natural grade level within 1 m (3.28') of both sides of the fence to the highest part of the fence.

    Proposed: SECTION 37.1 FENCES

    Fence height determined by zone

    (1) There is no maximum height for fences unless otherwise specified in a zone as set out in this Bylaw and summarized in Section 37.1 (8).


    Measuring height

    (2) The height of a fence shall be measured vertically from grade starting at the base of the fence to the highest part of the fence.


    Fence additions

    (3) Fence additions (e.g. barbed wire or ornamentation) shall be included in the calculation of total fence height.

    (4) For the purpose of calculating fence height, any arch, arbor, trellis or pergola affixed to or supported by a fence shall be deemed part of the fence.


    Front yard fence

    (5) Where a fence on the side of a property is also located within the setback of the front lot line, the “front” fence height restriction shall take precedence for that portion of the side fence.


    Vision clearance

    (6) Fences are subject to vision clearance provisions of Section 36.


    Fences located near retaining walls

    (7) Fence height for any fence located within 1.2 m of a retaining wall is regulated under Section 37.2.(4).


    Fence Height Restrictions by zone and yard location

    (8) The maximum fence heights in each zone are as follows:

    ZONE

    NAME

    MAXIMUM FENCE HEIGHT RESTRICTIONS

    YARD, FRONT

    YARD, SIDE

    YARD, REAR

    A1

    Agriculture

    No restrictions

    A2

    Rural

    No restrictions

    A3

    Rural Restricted

    1.2 m

    2.0 m

    2.0 m

    A4

    Rural Resources

    No restrictions

    A5

    Rural Residential

    1.2 m

    2.0 m

    2.0 m

    A6

    Rural Market

    No restrictions

    R1

    Residential Rural

    1.2 m

    2.0 m

    2.0 m

    R2

    Residential Restricted

    1.2 m

    2.0 m

    2.0 m

    R2-A

    Residential Restricted Properties

    1.2 m

    2.0 m

    2.0 m

    R3

    Residential One and Two Family

    1.2 m

    2.0 m

    2.0 m

    R3-S

    Residential Small Lot Single Family

    1.2 m

    2.0 m

    2.0 m

    R3-CH

    Residential Two-Family Detached

    1.2 m

    1.8 m

    1.2 m

    R3-MF

    Residential Medium Density Multi-Family

    1.2 m

    1.8 m

    1.2 m

    R4

    Residential Small Lot Mobile Home

    1.2 m

    2.0 m

    2.0 m

    Conditions as per Section 39.1

    R5

    Residential Mobile Home Park

    Subject to “Mobile Home Park Bylaw 1978", No. 1775.

    Conditions as per Section 39.1

    R6

    Residential Townhouse

    1.2 m

    2.0 m

    2.0 m

    Conditions as per Section 39.1

    R7

    Residential Multi-Family

    1.2 m

    2.0 m

    2.0 m

    Conditions as per Section 39.1

    R7-A

    Residential Ground-Oriented Multi-Family

    1.2 m

    2.0 m

    2.0 m

    Conditions as per Section 39.1

    R8

    Residential Multi-Family Apartment

    1.2 m

    2.0 m

    2.0 m

    Conditions as per Section 39.1

    W1

    Private Residence Water Lot

    No restrictions

    W2

    Light Commercial Water Lot

    No restrictions

    W3

    Mixed Use Commercial Water Lot

    No restrictions

    MA1

    Upland Tourist Commercial Marine

    No restrictions

    MA2

    Upland Tourist Commercial/Residential Marine

    No restrictions

    C1

    Commercial Local

    Conditions as per Section 39.2

    C2

    Commercial General

    Conditions as per Section 39.2

    C3

    Commercial Service

    Conditions as per Section 39.2

    C4

    Commercial Recreational

    Conditions as per Section 39.2

    C6

    Commercial Professional

    Conditions as per Section 39.2

    C7

    Commercial Rural Hospitality

    Conditions as per Section 39.2

    C8

    Commercial Rural Recreation

    Conditions as per Section 39.2

    C9

    Chemainus Commercial

    Conditions as per Section 39.2

    I1

    Industrial Light

    Conditions as per Section 39.3

    I2

    Industrial Heavy

    Conditions as per Section 39.3

    PI

    Private Institutional

    No restrictions

    PU

    Public Use

    No restrictions

    PC

    Public Conservation

    No restrictions

    CD1

    Cliffs CDZ

    1.2 m

    2.0 m

    2.0 m

    CD2

    Chemainus Quay CDZ

    No restrictions

    CD4

    CDZ – Mixed Family

    1.2 m

    2.0 m

    2.0 m

    CD5

    CDZ - Low Density Family

    1.2 m

    2.0 m

    2.0 m

    CD6

    Chemainus Artisan Village CDZ - Areas 1 and 2

    1.2 m

    1.2 m

    2.0 m

    CD6

    Chemainus Artisan Village CDZ - Area 3

    1.2 m

    1.2 m

    1.5 m

    CD7

    Stonehill CDZ

    1.2 m

    1.2 m

    1.8 m

    CD8

    Maple Bay School Site CDZ

    No restrictions

    CD9

    Multi-Family CDZ

    1.2 m

    2.0 m

    2.0 m

    CD10

    Urban Medium Density CDZ

    No fences over 1.2 m in any yard that abuts public property, a highway or lane

    No fences over 1.8 m in any other yard

    CD11

    Community Services (Health Care) CDZ

    No restrictions

    CD12

    Residential Two-Family CDZ

    1.2 m

    1.8 m

    1.2 m

    CD13

    Ground-Oriented Urban Residential CDZ

    1.2 m

    2.0 m

    2.0 m

    CD14

    University Village Mid-Rise Residential CDZ

    1.2 m

    2.0 m

    2.0 m

    CD15

    Mixed Use Residential

    1.2 m

    2.0 m

    2.0 m

    CD16

    Mixed Use Commercial Core

    No restrictions

    CD17

    Congregate Housing CDZ

    1.2 m

    1.2 m

    2.0 m

    Fencing along Friendship Trail must not exceed 2.0 m

    CD18

    Kingsview CDZ

    1.2 m

    2.0 m

    2.0 m

    CD19

    University Village

    No restrictions

    CD20

    The Commons CDZ

    1.2 m

    2.0 m

    2.0 m

    CD21

    Motorsport Circuit CDZ

    No restrictions



  • Proposed Changes to Zoning Bylaw: Retaining Walls

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    NOTE: CLICK ON TITLE TO REVIEW WITH DIAGRAMS


    ZONING: RETAINING WALLS


    Existing: No regulation in effect.


    Proposed: SECTION 37.2 RETAINING WALLS


    Maximum allowable height
    (1) Retaining walls located in yards are subject to fence height restrictions in Section 37.1.8, whether or not combined with fencing elements.
    (2) In no circumstances will a retaining wall be greater than 2 m in height.


    Measuring retaining wall height
    (3) Retaining wall height shall be measured vertically from the grade at the base of the wall on the lower side to the surface of the ground or water it supports.


    Portion of retaining wall considered as a fence

    (4) Any portion of a retaining wall that projects above the highest point of the surface of the ground or water it supports is considered a fence.


    Maximum allowable retaining wall height when combining a retaining wall and fence

    (5) The combined height of a retaining wall and fence (where the fence is located within 1.2 m of that retaining wall), or any portion of a retaining wall considered to be a fence, shall not exceed the applicable maximum allowable fence height as per Section 37.1.8.


    Maximum height measured from grade of higher abutting property

    (6) In the case of a retaining wall constructed in accordance with Section 37.2.5, the combined height of a retaining wall and fence (including any portions of the retaining wall considered to be a fence) located within the setback shall be measured from the grade of the abutting higher property to that lot line.

    Maximum fence height measurement for an abutting property

    (7) Notwithstanding Section 37.2.6, where a retaining wall exists on the subject property and is located within 1.2 m of the lot line, the maximum height for a fence located within the setback on the abutting property shall be measured from the top of the retaining wall on the subject property to the top of the fence.

    Terraced retaining walls

    (8) Terraced retaining walls must be constructed such that the distance between the two outer faces of adjacent retaining walls is not less than the height of the retaining wall with the greater height.

    The area between the terraced retaining walls

    (9) The backfilled area between terraced retaining walls may include drainage, irrigation, and landscaping, and shall be level and maintained in good condition free of debris, yard waste, graffiti and invasive species.

    Adding a guardrail onto a retaining wall

    (10) Guardrails up to a maximum height of 1.07 m located on retaining walls are excluded from the overall maximum allowable retaining wall height.

    Vision clearance

    (11) Retaining walls are subject to vision clearance provisions of Section 36.

    Easements, covenants, and rights-of-way

    (12) All retaining walls, or any portion thereof, shall be located entirely on the applicable parcel, and shall not be located within any right-of-way, easement or covenant area, except with the express written permission of the right-of-way holder, easement holder, or covenantee, as the case may be.

    Call out box


  • Proposed Changes to Building Bylaw: Retaining Walls

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    BUILDING BYLAW NO. 3892 - RETAINING WALLS


    Existing: Section 2 - Application

    1. Application

    2 (2) This bylaw does not apply to

    (b) retaining structures


    Proposed: Section 19.2: Retaining Wall Building Permit

    (1) A building permit must be obtained prior to the construction of a retaining wall over 1.2 m in height.

    (2) Multiple retaining walls over 1.2 m in height will require separate building permits except where they form a single terraced retaining wall system.

    (3) The horizontal separation between terraced retaining walls must not be less than the height of the retaining wall with the greater height. Where the horizontal separation between retaining walls is less than 5x the height of the retaining wall with the greatest height, the retaining walls shall be considered to be components of a single terraced retaining wall system.

    (4) It is the responsibility of the property owner to install guardrails as appropriate to mitigate any falling hazards associated with retaining walls.


    (5) Guardrails, where installed, must be built to Section 9.8.8 of the BC Building Code.

    (6) Guardrails are not included in the overall height of the retaining wall.

    (7) Retaining walls greater than 1.2 m in height will require engineering oversight (designed and inspected by a registered professional) including letters of assurance in the form of a Schedule B (field review and oversight by registered professional) and Schedule C-B (final report and sign off by registered professional).



Page last updated: 31 Mar 2023, 12:36 PM