Environmentally Sensitive Areas


Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs) are areas of ecological significance within the community that typically require extra protection.

The local ecology is crucial to maintaining healthy air, water, soil and biodiversity and provides a host of ecological services (at no charge) such as storm water management, soil stability, and temperature regulation. Unnecessarily disturbing these sensitive and important environments may harm their vitality and the important ecological services they provide.

In Sidney, the Environmentally Sensitive Area Development Permit Areas (DPAs) include properties that may contain important natural features and habitat types, such as creeks, shorelines, and upland forests.

Properties within an Environmentally Sensitive Area DPA require an approved Development Permit prior to any construction or landscaping that has a significant impact on the land or water.

A Development Permit allows the Town to evaluate specific conditions and activities, identify where approvals or notifications may be required (federal, provincial, local), work with property owners to reduce the impact of development on natural areas, and to help protect and restore habitat where possible. Development permit applications undergo a review by planning staff to ensure that any proposal achieves a balance between the proposed development and environmental preservation.

The development permit application process typically runs together with building permit process and as a result does not add substantially to the time or cost of a project. It is important to note that the intent of these guidelines is to guide – not prevent – development, with consideration of the natural environment.

Details of all Development Permit Areas including guidelines, exemptions, and maps, can be found in the Town’s Official Community Plan.

Frequently Asked Questions

The Town’s ESA’s are identified in Part 5 of the OCP on the Environmentally Sensitive Areas map.

The blue, green, and brown areas on the map indicate the boundaries of the ESAs. If your property is within these boundaries, it is within an existing or proposed ESA.

If your property is included within an ESA, you may be required to obtain a development permit before you can proceed with undertaking any activities that involve altering the land. Development Permit applications are reviewed in accordance with the ESA guidelines within the Official Community Plan.

If you are planning for development on your property, discuss your proposed work with Town staff early in the process. Staff will be able to advise you about whether or not your proposed work is exempt from the DPA requirements, or if you require further assessments by a qualified professional.

If your property is located within a Development Permit Area and you are altering the land, you are required to first obtain a Development Permit before applying for a Building Permit or commencing any work. This can include new construction, additions/alterations to the exterior of a building, structure, or fencing, and changes to landscaping.

Changes to the building itself (e.g. replacing siding) do not require a Development Permit in ESAs.

Some common activities that are exempt include:

• the minor repair and maintenance of existing structures

• interior renovations

• gardening and yard maintenance within an existing landscaped area

Town staff are available to review proposals at an early stage to determine whether or not a Development Permit is required or if the proposed activity can be exempt.

If construction, landscaping, or other activities that alter the land is proposed within an environmentally sensitive area (including significant trees and plants, drainage, etc.), you will be required to apply for a development permit before a building permit can be issued.

A development permit is not required for interior renovations or alterations.

A property in an ESA must have an approved Development Permit prior to any subdivision.

Minor maintenance to a building or existing structures do not require a Development Permit.

A number of factors contribute to the potential gross buildable floor area of a home and varies for individual properties. This is largely dependent on the property itself and whether any trees or other natural assets may be present.

The Zoning Bylaw is the main document that regulates what a property can be used for, the density of development, and the size and siting of all buildings.

A complete Development Permit application package is required to apply for a Development Permit (Minor) in an ESA; the application form is available on the Town’s website here.

Additional information may be requested as part of the application where circumstances require. This may include identifying the location of a natural boundary, identifying areas of special concern (e.g. bird nests), determination of the Streamside Protection and Environment Area (SPEA), an arborist report, an archaeological referral, a report by a qualified Professional Engineer, and/or an environmental assessment report by a Qualified Environmental Professional (QEP). Provincial or Federal approval may also be required, site-dependent.

  1. Determine if your property is within a Development Permit Area
  2. Preliminary discussion with Town staff (recommended)
  3. Submit complete application package
  4. Application review
  5. Approval/Issuance

The update to the Town’s ESAs in the OCP was intended to expand protection of natural areas and ideally help to restore other areas that have been substantially altered. Protecting and enhancing these natural areas is vital to the well-being of the community and to ensure that development in Sidney adheres to current federal, provincial, and municipal regulations.

Areas that are already developed can provide opportunities for improvements to the marine shoreline and adjacent foreshore habitat. For example, many of these properties have older concrete seawalls that separate the upland environment from the shoreline area.

Development guidelines would look for opportunities to protect or restore natural shoreline and vegetation, avoid construction that is too close to the high water mark, or incorporate naturalized solutions, such as GreenShores, as part of home rebuilds.

In addition to being part of important habitat areas on their own, these areas specifically contain some of Sidney’s last remaining stands of coastal Douglas fir trees, which provide important nesting areas and habitat for birds that depend on the sea for food. These two areas provide strong ecological value to the urban forest and other critical areas, such as the Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

Streams like Reay Creek or Mermaid Creek can provide many benefits, such as contributing to fish habitat and providing important storm water services by allowing water to filter into the soil and improve water quality. Many municipalities are looking for opportunities to incorporate these natural features into their storm water management networks, or to “daylight” streams and restore them to their natural state.

While some sections of Mermaid Creek are currently piped underground, there are other sections of open channel stream that would be protected by being included as ESAs. This protection then forms the basis for opportunities to restore the remainder of the creek through the development process. In addition, properties around Mermaid Creek and Reay Creek may be subject to the Province’s Riparian Areas Protection Regulation.