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Limitations on municipal planning authority

There are several limitations on municipal planning authority as noted below.

Federal limitations

Federal government lands and undertakings are exempt from municipal planning authority. Examples include:

  • Federal buildings
  • Military bases
  • National Parks
  • First Nations Lands

Matters are less clear with respect to railways and airports. Inter-provincial and federally designated railways are exempt with respect to development for railway purposes. However commercial development on railway property that is not integral to railway operations is not exempt (i.e. a retail mall on railway station grounds). Some railways are provincially chartered and operate within one province. Development on these railway lands is not exempt. Federally owned airports and airport operations are exempt. However, non-airport related activities on privately owned airports are subject to municipal planning approvals.

Communications towers are exempt. While the federal government has established protocols requiring the applicant to consult with municipalities, final approval remains with the federal government.

Some matters fall within federal jurisdiction and may require the approval of the federal government before development can proceed. The Fisheries Act and the Navigable Waters Act require particular attention when municipal actions may affect fish habitat or navigable waters.

Provincial government

The provincial government is exempt from the application of municipal planning provisions though it often voluntarily follows municipal planning approval procedures.

The Municipal Government Act (MGA) specifically exempts the following development from municipal planning approval:

  • Metis Settlements;
  • A well or battery within the meaning of the Oil and Gas Conservation Act;
  • A pipeline or structure incidental to the operation of the pipeline;
  • Confined feeding operations;
  • Dams; and,
  • Power lines.

In addition, Section 619 of the MGA provides that an application for a plan amendment, subdivision or development that is consistent with an approval granted by the Natural Resources Conservation Board, the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board, the Alberta Energy Regulator, or the Alberta Utilities Commission must be approved to the extent it complies with the approval granted by these provincial authorities. In other words, while the municipality may require subdivision or development approval, the approval is limited to considering matters not addressed in the approval granted by these agencies. More details on these issues are discussed in How we Plan.