A Step in the Right Direction by the City of Edmonton (With More Steps Still Required)

Whether it’s segmenting industrial areas apart from residential areas, or ensuring commercial areas are restricted to areas with adequate parking and traffic capacity, the City of Edmonton uses the existing zoning bylaw to allow and restrict what uses can occupy any given property or piece of land.

Looking at a section of Edmonton provides an overview of zoning at work.  This is the area between Whitemud Drive to the north, 34 Avenue to the south, 91 street to the east and 111 street to the west.  The light red section in the middle is zoned retail (technically it’s a major commercial corridor overlay area), and is flanked by residential to the west and industrial to the east.  The commercial area provides a natural separation from the residential and industrial areas and the retailers also serve as amenities to both.


There are essentially two parts to determining where a business can operate.  The first is identifying the business use (by City of Edmonton definition, click to see a few examples) and the second is finding a property with suitable zoning.  Naturally an industrial business will not be a permitted in the light blue or red areas.  To add some complexity, it’s also possible that an industrial business will not be permitted within certain areas of the light green area either (more information on that below).

Upon matching a particular use with a property that is zoned for that use, a formal application can be made to legally operate the business.  Recognizing that the process of obtaining a license to operate has become overwhelmingly complex, the City of Edmonton just announced a change to the zoning bylaw which is intended to streamline the process for some* new businesses opening in existing buildings.

The impetus for these changes came by way of a revelation by City administration:

“Regulations in [the] Zoning Bylaw are intended to help manage potential land use impacts of different types of development, but can at times become a barrier to individuals, businesses and community groups.”

Stated less diplomatically, the process sucks.

It sucks because businesses in Edmonton are required to apply for a business license and a development permit as part of the overall process.  The development permit can be an onerous element as the City will often require a number of documents, including site plans, floor plans, and a list of the other companies in the building and how much space they each occupy.   One would think the City would have gathered most of this information in the course of issuing previous permits and approvals, but alas, the responsibility falls on the tenant in order to obtain a license to operate.   With the recent change the City just announced, some* businesses will not have to get a development permit so it should speed up the process somewhat.  These select businesses will still require a business license and the development officer at the City will still ensure the application goes through a zoning clearance process so until a few businesses have been able to test out the new system, we feel it’s still prudent to assume you will still need a development permit for the near future.

The City said this is “big” news.  While it reduces the red tape, it’s still red and there’s still a lot of it.  Nonetheless, it’s a step in the right direction.

Our recommendation to tenants hasn’t changed with this news:

Make any lease agreement conditional upon obtaining a business license.  Every situation is unique, but the process can be as short as a day up to several weeks.  Also see what the landlord has ahead of time so it’s not a scramble at the last minute.

Our recommendation to landlords is to have the following information on hand (or at least readily accessible).  This is straight from the City of Edmonton:

Site Plans (to scale and dimensioned), including the following:

North Arrow
Municipal Address and Legal Description (Lot, Block, Plan Number)
Location and size of all Buildings, and specific location of the Bay within the subject building that the Use will occupy.
Parking Layout (dimensioned) and Parking Analysis
Loading Spaces (location and dimensions)
Vehicular Accesses (location and dimensions)
Identification of all streets and lanes abutting the subject site
Identification of all Uses and their floor areas within all buildings on site

Floor Plans (to scale and dimensioned):

Layout of interior and exterior walls and identification of all proposed/existing room uses on all floors, including mezzanine (ie. storage, retail space, office, seating areas)
All doors, stairs and window locations
Dimensions of building and floor area
Public Space – Area which is open to the public. (ie. Restaurants, Indoor Participant Recreation Areas)
Number of Seats or Occupants if required (ie. Religious Assembly, Commercial School)

We recognize this isn’t easy or quick to assemble, but it sure speeds up the process and helps eliminate unnecessary delays.  Perhaps one day the City will modernize the process so the wealth of data in their system can be cross-referenced.   Ideally, much of the work required for a development permit can be avoided in the future, but in the meantime just do everything you can to be prepared.




Defining your business “use” is one of the most pivotal steps in the process of buying or leasing commercial real estate in Edmonton.  Learn more in our free eBook.

If you have an itch to learn more about the recent decision, Charter Bylaw 18613 will provide the scratch.  Or you can view the signed bylaw.

* The full list of uses exempt from a development permit (subject to the conditions mentioned below):

Business Support Services
Commercial Schools
Convenience Retail Stores
Community Recreation Services
Creation and Production Establishments
Equipment Rentals, provided that all equipment and goods for rent are contained within an enclosed building
Greenhouses, Plant Nurseries and Garden Centres, provided that all goods are contained within an enclosed building
General Retail Stores
Government Services
Household Repair Shop
Limited Contractor Services
Media Studios
Minor Amusement Establishments
Mobile Catering Food Services
Personal Service Shops, not including those operating as a Body Rub Centre
Professional, Financial, and Office Support Services
Public Libraries and Cultural Exhibits
Public Parks
Specialty Food Services, for less than 100 occupants and 120 m2 of Public Space, and not including Drive-in Food Services
Restaurants, for less than 200 occupants and 240 m2 of Public Space, and not including Drive-in Food Services
Veterinary Services
Warehouse Sales

NOTE: The following conditions still apply:

  1. it does not result in exterior alterations to the building or Site;
  2. it does not result in additional gross Floor Area to the building;
  3. it is a Permitted Use;
  4. It complies with regulations that restrict the size and location of the Use in the applicable Zone.


Information contained herein has been provided as information only and should not be relied upon as advice.

Forms and processes by the City of Edmonton are subject to change without notice.



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Our Team

Chad Griffiths

Chad Griffiths

Partner, SIOR, CCIM

Chad is a partner with NAI Commercial Real Estate and focuses on the Greater Edmonton area. Chad entered the industry in 2004 and has completed over 400 commercial transactions with clients ranging from small, local companies to large institutional owners. Chad has been a top 15 producer with NAI Canada-wide since 2013.

Ryan Brown

Ryan Brown

Partner, BCom, SIOR

Ryan is a partner with NAI Commercial Real Estate in Edmonton and is currently ranked nationally as one of NAI's top advisors. Having executed in excess of $100 Million worth of sales transactions and over 2 Million square feet of lease transactions, Ryan has developed a firm understanding of asset evaluation and an aptitude for building design, functionality, and long-term practicality.

Darcie Bouteiller

Darcie Bouteiller


Darcie is a licensed Commercial Real Estate Agent in the Province of Alberta with a focus on the Edmonton market and its surrounding areas. Darcie accomplishes custom solutions for her clients through her personable nature and results driven attitude. Darcie can help if you are looking to invest in commercial real estate or are looking for representation for a sale or lease transactions.

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