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Subdivisions

This information has been prepared to assist individuals wishing to subdivide land within the Province of Alberta. It is intended to complement information contained in provincial legislation or provided by the Subdivision Authority of the municipality in which the land is located.


Subdivision is the dividing of a single parcel of land into two or more parcels, each to be given a separate title. Subdivision is also used for existing lot line adjustments. Notwithstanding a few exceptional circumstances, subdivision approval and endorsement by the local municipality must always be received before the subdivision can be registered at the Land Tiles Office and titles issued (including bareland condominiums).

Exceptions may occur with parcels of land that contain more than one quarter section, a river lot, a lake lot, or some settlement lots created prior to July 1, 1950. Ask your local Subdivision Authority, an Alberta Land Surveyor or Alberta Land Titles staff for information about the particular circumstances of the parcel of land in question.

NOTE: This booklet is a general guide to Alberta’s subdivision process. It does not contain all the rules and regulations. Individuals applying for subdivision of land must contact the local municipality for local regulations. Applicants may also wish to obtain a copy of the Municipal Government Act and the Subdivision and Development Regulation.

The Association has prepared a brochure to help you understand Alberta's subdivision process.

Copies of Association brochures can also be ordered using our online form.

The Municipal Government Act and Subdivision and Development Regulation govern subdivision of land.

This legislation specifies the authority and responsibilities of the municipality in receiving and deciding on subdivisions.

Each municipality must enact a subdivision bylaw to provide for a subdivision authority to exercise powers and duties on behalf of the municipality.

The municipality may choose to have subdivision decisions made by:

  • any or all members of council;
  • a designated officer of the municipality;
  • a municipal planning commission;
  • any other person or organization.

 

The applicant for subdivision approval must submit an application and supporting information to the designated authority. The basic application form comes from the Subdivision and Development Regulation. These are minimum requirements. Actual requirements will vary from municipality to municipality.

Only the landowner or an agent acting on behalf of the landowner may apply for subdivision. An agent may be any person acting on behalf of the owner. 

Often landowners hire or contract an Alberta Land Surveyor or other professional—planner, lawyer, engineer— to act on their behalf when they do not wish to undertake the application on their own. 

The subdivision application must clearly indicate the name of the agent.

How do landowners or their agent apply for subdivision approval?

The first step is completion of the subdivision application form. The landowner or their agent should contact the municipality to determine who is the specified subdivision authority and obtain the official subdivision application form. Each municipality may have a different format and different requirements in terms of what constitutes a “completed application.” Evaluation of a subdivision application will not begin until a “completed application” is received by the subdivision authority.

It is wise to ask the subdivision authority for a copy of any relevant planning documents such as Municipal Development Plan, Area Structure Plan, Area Redevelopment Plan and Land Use Bylaw. These documents may restrict or prohibit the proposed use of the land subject to subdivision, without a bylaw amendment.

The subdivision application requires the following information: name, address, phone number of the applicant and agent, the legal description of the land, its location, its existing and proposed future uses, its physical characteristics, and indication of water and sewer services. In addition, the application must include a proposed (tentative) plan of the subdivision, the required fee and a copy of the current title for the land (available from private registry agents).

Applicants often hire a professional, as noted earlier, to determine the likelihood of success, or for assistance in refining the proposals so that the chance of approval is increased. A pre-application meeting can often be arranged with the Subdivision Authority to discuss issues related to a proposed subdivision. Use of professional services may actually reduce the overall subdivision or development costs to the landowner.

The amount of information required for subdivision approval will be dependent upon the complexity of the proposed subdivision application. Generally, the greater the number of lots proposed, the more detail will be required. Usually more information is better than less.

An applicant must also submit sketches or proposed plans showing the location, dimensions and boundaries of the land to be subdivided and the parcels to be created as well as rights of way, locations and types of existing buildings, the bed and shore of any river, lake or stream within the boundary, locations of roads, rail lines and oil and gas facilities, pipelines and the like. A subdivision authority may request that a Real Property Report be prepared, showing locations of buildings and improvements that will remain in place
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An important consideration for any subdivision is the source of potable water and the method of sewage disposal. Any sketch should show the location of existing wells (rural) and sewage systems and dimensions relative to proposed property lines.

An Alberta Land Surveyor is the only person who may legally establish boundaries in accordance with the Surveys Act. A proposed plan prepared by an Alberta Land Surveyor may make the process go easier because working with an Alberta Land Surveyor often increases accuracy and supporting detail for the application.

Use of professional assistance for gathering information for complex applications will save time and frustration. 

Professionals are usually consulted for information about:

  • land use—permitted or discretionary;
  • boundaries, building locations, encumbrances;
  • access and sight distances along municipal roads;
  • location of boundaries to meet wishes of applicant;
  • preparation of application to meet planning requirements;
  • water quantity and quality;
  • soil reports;
  • environmental reviews;
  • topographic information for building site locations;
  • flood plain maps, water table and drainage information;
  • environmental reserves, easements;
  • location of nearby sour gas facilities or livestock operations;
  • sewer system locations and percolation tests;
  • municipal reserve requirements or cash-in-lieu of reserve (applicant may be responsible for obtaining a current property appraisal—at discretion of municipality).
  • suitability of the proposed site for the intended use;
  • conformity of the proposal to local planning legislation, The Municipal Development Plan, any Area Structure Plan, and Land Use Bylaws;
  • conformity to the provisions of the Municipal Government Act and the Subdivision and Development Regulation.

If the proposed subdivision does not meet the criteria set out in the statutory plans, the applicant may consider asking for an amendment to them. A typical example might be an applicant proposing a multi-parcel country residential subdivision in an area zoned exclusively for agriculture. 

The applicant must first apply to change the designation of the entire zoned area of the subject land to include the country residential use classification. Such an action may also require amendment of a Municipal Development Plan or Area Structure Plan. The municipality would hold public hearings, consider the merits of the proposal and make a judgement accordingly. 

If the application meets the provincial and municipal planning legislation, the next step is evaluation of the specific site characteristics. This analysis includes evaluation of:

  • boundaries and building locations;
  • topography (is there a suitable building site?);
  • soil characteristics (suitability for drainage or sewage);
  • storm water collection;
  • adequacy of water supply (quantity and quality);
  • road accessibility and internal roads;
  • erosion, slope, environmental concerns;
  • other matters the Subdivision Authority considers relevant.

To assist in evaluation, the Subdivision Authority may refer the application to other government agencies or departments, school authorities, irrigation districts, adjacent municipalities, encumbrance holders and other persons or authorities whose input would assist in evaluating the application. 

Adjacent landowners will be notified of the application and may provide input or appear at hearings if hearings are held. Adjacent landowners do not have to be notified if the application is part of an Area Structure Plan or a conceptual scheme and public hearings have been held. 

Notification may occur at the discretion of the municipality.

Once the completed application has been received, the subdivision authority has certain time frames in which to consider the application.

In most cases referrals to other agencies, such as those listed above are required. A decision must be made within 60 days unless the applicant and the subdivision authority agree to a time extension.

If the subdivision authority fails to issue a decision within the specified time frame and extensions are not agreed to, the applicant may initiate an appeal. Such an appeal is considered an appeal of a deemed refusal.

The subdivision authority may approve, vary or refuse an application. An approval may include a variety of conditions.

If an application is refused, the Authority must provide reasons for the refusal. An applicant may appeal any subdivision refusal, or any subdivision approval containing unacceptable conditions but may not appeal land use designation.

The subdivision authority may impose conditions that must be fulfilled before the subdivision can be registered at the Land Titles Office. These may include:

  • requirements to ensure the subdivision complies with all planning regulations or documents, including site-specific conditions such as water supply, internal roads, etc.;
  • requirements for an agreement to be entered into with the municipality to pay for construction of roads, walkways, sewer and water systems, other utilities, or off-site levies;
  • payment of any outstanding taxes;
  • dedication of reserve land, or other arrangements in-lieu-of land.

A municipality may require the landowner to provide municipal and/or school reserve land as part of a subdivision approval. The applicant may be required to give up land or, if the municipality prefers, to pay cash in-lieu-of land. Up to 10 percent of developed land may be taken for municipal reserve purposes. Occasionally the taking of land may be deferred to a later time. In those cases a caveat is registered on the title.

Environmental reserve is land with environmental conditions that may make it unsuitable for development. These areas may include: steep slopes, swamps, gullies, ravines, natural drainage courses, flood prone areas, or land immediately adjacent to lakes, rivers, streams or other bodies of water. If the municipality and owner agree, a caveat may be filed against the land to protect it as environmental reserve. There is no restriction on the amount of land which can be dedicated or restricted as environmental reserve.

Reserve land and land for road requirements are taken without compensation. The Subdivision Authority may require land for roads and public utilities up to a maximum of 30 percent of the area of the parcel of land less the area taken as environmental reserve or environmental reserve easement.

A typical tentative plan, prepared by an Alberta Land Surveyor, that would form part of a subdivision would show:

  • Location of the proposed subdivision in the municipality;
  • Legal description of the land;
  • All lot locations and measurements;
  • All easements, rights of way, roads, railways, etc.;
  • Location or surveyed boundaries of any environmental features such as a water course;
  • Building locations and setbacks;
  • Other information (external to diagram, i.e. potable water)
  • Name of Alberta Land Surveyor preparing plan;
  • Alberta Land Surveyor’s Permit Stamp (if corporation).

Any decision or condition issued by a Subdivision Authority may be appealed. Appeals can be to a local Subdivision and Development Appeal Board or to the Municipal Government Board (for very limited matters relating to highways or water bodies). The applicant or agent for the subdivision, government departments, the local municipality or local school authorities may launch an appeal. Adjacent landowners may not launch an appeal.

An appeal must be commenced within 14 days of receipt of a written decision. A notice of appeal must include reasons for the appeal.

In rendering a decision, the appeal body will examine the same details relating to the application as the original subdivision authority. The appeal boards are not bound by the same rules and regulations. Appeal decisions will be in writing and will include reasons for the decision. Appeals must be heard within 30 days of receipt of the appeal and a written decision with reasons must be issued within 15 days of the hearing.

An additional appeal may be launched to the Court of Appeal on a matter of law or jurisdiction.

A Subdivision Authority may refuse to accept another application on the same parcel of land for the period of time specified in the Municipal Government Act.

The subdivision approval is valid for a period of one year. During that time, all conditions must be met. If they cannot, the applicant may contact the Subdivision Authority and request an extension prior to the one-year period lapsing—extensions are discretionary and may not always be granted.

Alberta Registries––Land Titles Office will determine the method of survey, which they will accept to register the subdivision of land. 

There are two methods—Subdivision by Descriptive Plan or Subdivision by Plan of Survey.

In 1988 a provision within the Land Titles Act allowed the use of a Descriptive Plan to subdivide a parcel of land. The process of using a Descriptive Plan replaced the use of a metes and bound description. 

The metes and bounds description used words to describe a parcel of land and often proved difficult to follow. The Descriptive Plan proved abetter method of showing a subdivision of land graphically, on a plan.

The Land Titles Office may give approval for the use of a Descriptive Plan to subdivide a parcel of land. Some factors that the Land Titles Office considers include:

  • The number of existing un-surveyed parcels;
  • the location of the land;
  • the cost of a survey;
  • the intended use of the land;
  • the value of the land; or
  • the complexity of the Descriptive Plan (showing only distances).

The Land Titles Office generally grants approval of a subdivision by Descriptive Plan when:

  • the subdivision is the first parcel from a quarter section;
  • the new parcel is square or rectangular in shape;
  • no land is being dedicated to the Crown such as a road or reserve land; and/or
  • is a simple relocation of a lot boundary.

 

Advantages and disadvantages of a Descriptive Plan

The subdivision of the parcel of land is described on a plan and only a minimal field survey is conducted. This minimal field survey involves approximate measurements to ensure buildings, fences, trees or other items are contained inside or outside a new property boundary.

 A field survey would also be required when a new parcel of land has a natural watercourse (creek, river, lake, etc.) as one of the boundaries. With minimal field surveying, the cost of a subdivision by Descriptive Plan is less than a subdivision by Plan of Survey.

The disadvantage of a subdivision by Descriptive Plan is no legal survey posts are placed to show the location of the property boundaries. If the new parcel of land is to be fenced, an additional field survey may be required in order to construct the fence on the new property boundary.

A subdivision by Plan of Survey is required when a parcel of land is subdivided into several lots and land is dedicated to the Crown for roads and reserves. A legal field survey is conducted to sufficiently establish the boundaries of the original parcel of land; and legal survey posts are placed in the ground to establish the new parcel boundaries. A Plan of Survey is prepared showing the measurements and dimensions of existing and new parcel boundaries.

Advantages of a Plan of Survey

The boundaries of the new parcel of land are identified by legal survey posts placed at the corners of the lots. As long as these posts are protected and not disturbed or destroyed, the boundaries of the parcel of land can be identified at any time.

The cost of a Plan of Survey, depending on the situation, may be significant. Whenever a new parcel of land has a north-south quarter line, east-west quarter line or a section line without a road allowance as one of its boundaries, the cost of a field survey can be further increased.

Once the field survey has been completed, an Alberta Land Surveyor prepares a final survey plan. The final survey plan is in digital format but hard copy prints are usually available to assist in review for the final steps of the subdivision process.

Final endorsement by the Subdivision authority

The applicant must meet all the conditions of the subdivision decision before the Subdivision Authority can endorse the final subdivision plan, prepared by an Alberta Land Surveyor.

All signatures pertaining to the subdivision must be obtained on the appropriate Consent Forms. Since the final survey plan is in digital format and submitted electronically, original signatures on the Consent Forms must accompany the subdivision registration request.

Consent Forms are required from all the landowners registered on the original Certificate of Title and from the Subdivision Authority.

If land is being dedicated for public use by way of a road dedication or land dedicated for reserves or public utility lots, Consent Forms are usually required from those with a registered interest on the title (instrument holders). 

Instrument holders may choose to consent to the subdivision, thereby having their particular interest and instrument carried forward onto the new lot or lots; or the instrument holder may decide to partially discharge their instrument over certain lots.

Normally all the appropriate Consent Forms are prepared and original signatures from the required parties are obtained by the Alberta Land Surveyor.

The cost of subdividing a parcel of land varies according to the complexity of the proposal. Each subdivision authority determines its own application fees and endorsement fees.

The Land Titles Office levies a registration fee and cadastral mapping.

For information about surveying costs, please click here.

Municipal Government Act (MGA): Provincial government legislation that forms the legal basis for the way local governments in cities, towns, villages and rural areas operate in Alberta.

Subdivision Authority: Established by the municipality -receives, processes and decides on subdivision  applications in accordance with the Act (MGA), regulations, and Land Use Bylaws.

Subdivision and Development Appeal Board: Established by the municipality this board hears appeals of decisions made by the Subdivision or Development authority.

Subdivision and Development Regulation: Regulation under the MGA that regulates subdivision applications, subdivision and development conditions, registration and endorsements of subdivision and setbacks for provincial appeals. Also, regulates and defines development distances from a Green Area, highway, body of water, sewage treatment or waste management facility.

Municipal Development Plan: A Plan produced by a municipality creating policies for land use in the entire municipality.

Area Structure Plan: Produced by the municipality this plan establishes the general land use, transportation, and servicing structure for a specific area undergoing new development.

Area Redevelopment Plan: A plan produced by the municipality that addresses planning issues when rejuvenating existing developed areas.

Land Use Bylaw: Laws established by a municipality to regulate the use and development of parcels of land.

Certificate of Title
: A legal document that identifies the current owner of a parcel of land and shows all outstanding registered interests in the land, such as mortgages, caveats, easements and builders’ liens.

Alberta Land Surveyors are professionals—current standards require completion of extensive post-secondary education, followed by articling and writing of professional examinations. Alberta Land Surveyors are governed by provincial law with a mandate to protect the public’s interest in matters of real property boundaries. Additionally, they must be registered with the Alberta Land Surveyors’ Association.

If you wish to learn more about surveying or the surveyor’s role in the land subdivision process please contact an Alberta Land Surveyor.

For a province-wide list of Alberta Land Surveyors, please click here.

The benefits of hiring a professional:

  • The subdivision process can be quite complex. A professional—Alberta Land Surveyor, Planner, Lawyer, Engineer,etc.—understands planning regulations and can design a subdivision that meets the legislated requirements of the province and municipality.
  • It is often less costly to retain professional help at the application stage, rather than later when difficulties arise and professional consultants are required to rectify a problem.
  • Properly prepared applications usually proceed more quickly and registration at the Land Titles Office is achieved sooner.
  • A professional Alberta Land Surveyor must be in charge of the determination of boundaries for plan registration at the Land Titles Office.

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The Alberta Land Surveyors' Association (ALSA) is a self-governing professional association legislated under the Land Surveyors Act. The Association regulates the practice of land surveying for the protection of the public and administration of the profession.