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Commercial-based businesses

Before you start

Before making a long-term commitment to a space for your business, it is important to know if The City will be able to approve you to operate at your desired location. All businesses require land use approval, regardless of whether a business licence is required. Businesses that require a licence need to obtain land use approval prior to a licence being issued.

The use of a space and the business licence are separate approvals. They each have their own set of requirements, definitions and bylaws (Land Use Bylaw and Business Licence Bylaw).

On June 12, 2017, Calgary City Council approved amendments to the Land Use Bylaw that remove a number of process and regulatory requirements in the Centre City area.​

What is a land use approval?

A land use approval is The City’s authorization for a particular activity to occur at a given location. Each property within the city of Calgary has a land use district assigned to it, and this land use district controls the allowable uses.

To view the allowable uses within a particular land use district, refer to the Land Use Bylaw. To determine the land use district of a property, visit calgary.ca/myproperty.

Land use ap​proval types

Land use approval is achieved through one or more of the following permit types. You may require a combination of permits to obtain the appropriate approvals for your licence.

There are a number of variables that The City reviews to determine which application type you require for land use approval.

These factors include:

  • Whether the use is listed as permitted or discretionary within the land use district
  • If parking requirements are changing
  • If the activity change requires a building permit review.

To assist in determining which permit you will require, contact the Planning Services Centre. A planning services technician will take into consideration the land use district, proposed business activities and historical approvals for the address.

Development permit

A development permit for a change of use is required if a business is moving into a new space or operates in a different way than the last business that occupied that space. It is also required if a proposed business is intensifying or expanding operations from the previous approval (e.g. a child care service is taking more children, a restaurant is expanding public area). A change of use is required, regardless of whether there will be construction or not.

A development permit will fall under one of three categories. The category that an application will fall under depends on if the use is listed as permitted or discretionary as well as its parking requirements. Each use has specific parking rates listed in the Land Use Bylaw. Parking requirements are determined based on the parking rate of the use and any special rules of the land use district. Available parking is determined based on the number of approved stalls provided on a site, minus the number of stalls required for the proposed and existing uses on the site.

Change of use - permitted

Description: required when the use changing within a space is listed as a permitted use in the land use district with no relaxations to parking or other use rules.

Process: a full submission of the requirements described on the Change of use – permitted requirement list. This includes a Use Questionnaire, which details the business operations. This application can be made verbally over the phone, through email, or in person, see the requirements list for more information. After submission, The City reviews the application for compliance with the Land Use Bylaw. If the business activities comply, the use is approved by the file manager.

Timeline: this type of application typically requires five business days to process. If the bylaw check reveals that relaxations are required, it will prolong the timeline and require a re-submission as a Change of use – permitted with relaxation, along with applicable fees.

Note: At time of application, it will be determined whether a building permit will be required, once your development permit has been approved.

Change of use - permitted with relaxation/discretionary

Description: required when the use changing within a space is listed as either permitted but requires a Land Use Bylaw relaxation, or listed as discretionary within that district. Approval of these applications is at the discretion of the development authority.

Process: A full submission of the requirements described on the Change of use – discretionary requirement list is made by the applicant. This includes a certificate of title, authorization letter, colour photographs, floor plans of the proposed space, a site plan of the property and a completed Use Que​stionnaire, which details the operations of the business. After submission, The City reviews the proposal, including any required relaxations, and circulates the application to any required stakeholders (e.g. community associations, ward councillor).  If the application is approved, advertising will take place, giving the community an opportunity to appeal.

Timeline: this type of application typically requires eight to 10 weeks to process, excluding time on hold, but may take longer depending on the complexity of the proposal and its impacts.

Note: At time of application, a safety code officer will determine if a building permit will be required, once your development permit has been approved.

Sample drawings

Building permit

Description: a building permit may be required for a new business or a business changing ownership, even if there is no construction planned as part of the development permit process. Upgrades may be necessary to comply with the Alberta Building Code and applicable health and safety standards.

Process: a full submission of the requirements described on the applicable building permit requirements list. The type of building permit application depends on the type of construction being done, whether the proposed changes are interior only or include exterior changes. A key plan showing where the suite is located within the building, floor plans of the proposed space, a Building permit information form and an Asbestos abatement form are always required.

Timeline: this type of application requires 21 calendar days to review for projects under $1 million in construction value, and can range up to 56 calendar days for projects over $1 million. This excludes time on hold.

When is a building perm​it required?

Building permits are evaluated by a safety codes officer on a case-by-case basis and are required where there are issues of health and safety.

A building permit is required when:

  • A tenant space has a new use (e.g. a retail store changes to a restaurant).
  • Any construction is being done, including structural or partition wall changes, mechanical, plumbing, gas or electrical work.
  • Your mechanical equipment needs to be upgraded to meet building code, due to a change in use (e.g. car detailing to engine repair affects ventilation rates; using a forklift in a warehouse may require additional ventilation).
  • You are the first tenant in a space.
  • A health review is required: restaurants, daycares, pools, personal services (such as hair salons, massage centers, tattoos, nail salons).
  • There is a change in kitchen or mechanical ventilation equipment or new equipment being installed.
  • There is a change to the occupant load.

A building permit is generally not required when:

  • The use and space remain unchanged (office to office or retail to retail).
  • If the scope is primarily cosmetic, such as painting or furniture.

Other permits that may be required with your building permit:

  • Opening a new business may also require trade permits for plumbing, gas, electrical or mechanical work, which must be applied for by a qualified trade contractor. The types of trade permits required will depend on the type of business, current conditions in the space, what you are proposing and what is required by applicable codes.​

Building code information guides

Tenancy change

Description: tenancy change applications are for businesses that are changing owners, with no change to the approved use within a space. If no construction is occurring and the use is not intensifying or changing, planning approvals may be completed through a tenancy change. A building permit may also be required if upgrades are necessary to comply with the Alberta Building Code.

Process: a submission of the requirements described on the Tenancy change requirements list. This includes a Use Questionnaire, which details the operations of the business. This application can be made verbally over the phone, through email, or in person, see the requirements list for more information. After submission, The City reviews the application for Land Use Bylaw compliance. If the business activities are the same as the previous approved use, the use will be approved.

Timeline: this type of application requires five to 10 business days to complete, when review is required.

Note: At time of application, a it will be determined whether a building permit will be required, once your development permit has been approved.

How to apply

Once you have determined which application(s) you require, you can start to prepare the application requirements as outlined below. Applications can be made in person at the Planning Services Centre. Certain applications may be made over the phone or through email, view the requirements lists for more information.​

The requirement lists below are a comprehensive overview of application requirements. Please print and have all applicable forms and drawings completed prior to applying.

Fees

*Tenancy change applications do not require application fees​​​​​​​​​​​​.​​

Centre City Enterprise Area Explained​​​

On June 12, 2017, Calgary City Council approved amendments to the Land Use Bylaw that remove a number of process and regulatory requirements in the Centre City in order to make it easier for businesses to locate into new spaces and for building owners to make improvements and modifications to their buildings to attract and accommodate new tenants. These new rules came into effect on June 26, 2017. The objective of the Centre City Enterprise Area is to reduce retail and office vacancies and to maintain and enhance activity levels in the Centre City area. 

What is the Centre City Enterprise Area (CCEA)?

The CCEA is a special area defined in the Land Use Bylaw where certain rules and processes have been suspended to facilitate changes in tenancy and upgrading of existing buildings. While there are certain exceptions, for most buildings, there is no requirement to obtain a development permit for the following common business and development transactions:

  • To change from one defined use in Land Use Bylaw 1P2007 to another defined use (e.g. from retail to medical office or from office to residential) within the applicable land use district
  • To change or modify the exterior of an existing building
  • To make an addition to the building that is less than 1,000 square metres in area

Why has this area been designated?

The designated area shown below is where there is the highest concentration of vacant office buildings and retail space that has been impacted by the economic downturn. It is hoped that by removing barriers to re-occupancy and to update buildings it will help building owners attract new tenants, thereby reducing vacancy rates.


How long will the Centre City Enterprise Area be in effect?

The proposal is that the CCEA will be in place for 3 years (July 1, 2020). There will be interim reporting to Council during the three years to report on results and adjustments may be made during that time.

What happens to a use that has been exempted from some rules under the CCEA when the 3 years expires?

If a use or building modification has been legally approved under the CCEA, but will be in conflict with other rules and policies after the 3 years, then the use or building will be considered legal, non-conforming. This status may limit its ability to expand the use or modify the building. However, a new development permit can always be applied for at that time, if necessary.

Are there any exceptions where the new processes won’t apply?

Yes. If any of the following situations are true, then the normal rules will apply:

  • The subject building is on the Inventory of Evaluated Historic Resources
  • The subject building is within 30 metres of a freight rail corridor and the proposed use is one of the following:
    • Addiction treatment
    • Assisted living
    • Child care service
    • Dwelling unit
    • Emergency shelter
    • Home based child care – Class 2
    • Hospital
    • Jail
    • Residential care
    • Schools
    • Temporary shelter
  • The proposed use is one of the following:
    • Custodial care
    • Liquor store
    • Medical marihuana counselling
    • Nightclub
    • Pawn shop
    • Payday loan

How can I tell if the property is within 30 metres of a freight rail corridor?

As a general rule, if the subject property is adjacent to the CP Rail corridor (e.g. the property line borders the CP Rail right-of-way), then it will be within 30 metres. If the property is not adjacent to the right-of-way, say if it is across a street, then it is most likely outside the 30 metre limit. This can be checked by contacting the Planning Services Centre.

Do all other rules and policies in the Land Use Bylaw or policy documents still apply even if no development permit is required?

No, the impact of not requiring a development permit means that other rules such as parking, location of uses in buildings, and size of uses will not apply unless the rule is contained within the definition of the use. The only exception is for an addition to a building of up to 1,000 square metres must still comply with Section 24 of the Land Use Bylaw. For more information, please contact the Planning Services Centre​.

How can I tell if the subject building is on the Inventory of Evaluated Historic Resources?

You can find out by searching the Inventory of Evaluated Historic Resources​ or by contacting the Planning Services Centre.

If I don’t need a development permit, what other permits and approvals might still be required?

If your proposal is indeed exempt from a development permit, the following other approvals may still be required:

  • A building permit and other related trade permits (e.g. electrical and plumbing)
  • Business License
  • Alberta Health approval for any food service establishment
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