Why is the Business License Process in Edmonton so Confusing?

(Edmonton) – On Monday we went with one of our clients to the City of Edmonton to assist them with getting a business license.  To our pleasant surprise, we had the business license in hand within 45 minutes of walking in.

Our past experience had conditioned us to prepare for at least two hours, so this really is a big deal.

This is all a result of a recent bylaw amendment in which the City approved a change to allow a select group of businesses to avoid getting a development permit as a pre-requisite of getting a business license.

Our client simply had to fill out a business license application, provide a space plan, and articles of incorporation for the business.  The development officer cross-referenced the business type with the zoning for the particular building being leased, and determined it was eligible to skip the development permit process (and the corresponding additional forms and documents required).

We were a bit skeptical on how it would be rolled out, but we were impressed with the experience.

It does, however, draw attention to how horribly inefficient the system was before (and to some extent, continues to be).

For example, why is a development permit required prior to getting a business license in the first place?

We understand that municipalities use the development permit as a means of verifying that a particular business type is permissible under the zoning bylaws for a specific location.  Naturally, a cannabis location should not be allowed next door to a school.  Nor should a daycare be located next to a liquor store.  Zoning is a useful mechanism for municipalities to control what businesses go where.

That isn’t lost on us.

What is lost on us, however, is why that process needs to occur under the guise of a development permit.  Why not just make the business license application include whatever the municipality wants in order to sure the property is suitable for the company looking to occupy it?

In other words, why can’t the process be more clear?

And while the City of Edmonton has made steps in the right direction, it still only applies to a select number of uses.  All the other uses are still required to get a development permit and a business license simultaneously.  And even with the uses that are exempt, the City still has a number of conditions, including:

1. The business use is a Permitted Use under the zoning bylaw;
2. The use complies with regulations that restrict the size and location of the Use in the applicable Zone.

So in plain language, businesses that are exempt from requiring a development permit, are still required to conform to most of the conditions that would be in the development permit anyways.

But at least it’s more clear and Edmonton’s draconian bylaws are becoming, well, a bit less draconian.

There is very little consistency in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region either.

To illustrate this, we did a quick survey1 to see how other municipalities in the region handle the business license application:

MunicipalityBusiness LicenseDevelopment Permit
Parkland County (Including Acheson)NoYes
Strathcona County (Including Sherwood Park)NoYes
St AlbertYesMaybe

Considering the large amount of revenue that municipalities collect from non-residential property taxes, it would seem logical to us that the process of allowing companies to occupy these buildings should be as easy and straightforward as possible.

It really could be as simple as this:

1. Establish a set of permitted and discretionary uses for each zoning (commercial, industrial, etc);
2. Assign each property a specific zoning;
3. Establish / define the different types of business uses;
4. Businesses that have compatible uses for specific properties complete a business license application.

Compare this to a service by the Alberta Government, called BizPaL, which allows a company to search all the different permits which may be applicable.  We did a search for “Fabricated Metal Product Manufacturing” and got a list of 42 different permits which may be applicable.

“A bureaucrat is a person who cuts red tape sideways.”
– Joseph McCabe



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1 This is our interpretation of the information displayed on the municipalities respective websites, which in some cases was not overly clear.  The City of Leduc, for example, only says that a business license is required and pushes users to a web portal to complete an application.  We’re assuming that Leduc might require a development permit, but their website doesn’t explicitly answer that question.  This chart is naturally subject to change without notice, although we will attempt to update it if new information comes available.  We are providing this information for illustrative purposes only and it is not intended to be commercial real estate advice whatsoever.  We recommend directly contacting the municipalities to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.  See our full disclaimer here.

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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