Bonusing Programs

What is it?

Bonusing programs allow the approval of a ‘bonus’ amount of development beyond what would have otherwise been allowed, in exchange for priority amenities needed by the community, such as park land, public art, energy efficient buildings, affordable housing, or other public good. Bonuses match what is desirable from the developer’s perspective, and can be an increased density, building height, or a relaxation of certain standards.

How can municipalities use it?

Municipalities can use bonusing programs to protect natural infrastructure through offering a bonus in exchange for park land or open space that will be protected from development, or for ‘greener’ development that has less impact on the natural infrastructure system. Municipalities can offer bonusing programs to strategically align with other tools, such as cluster development to ensure a connected natural infrastructure system.

What are the advantages?

Advantages of a bonusing program include:

  • Allows municipalities to effectively manage growth while maintaining natural infrastructure

  • Can incent development in areas preferred by the municipality

  • Provides an incentive for developers to decrease the total footprint of a development

  • Does not require monetary compensation for protection of land

  • Can complement other municipal planning tools

What should you watch out for?

Municipalities should consider the following when designing a bonusing program:

  • Bonusing programs can support the notion that developers require compensation rather than being obligated to protect natural infrastructure

  • When offering density bonuses, an established overall maximum density should be established and must not be exceeded

  • Bonusing programs must align with other planning practices and tools, and must be evaluated from time to time to ensure the program is benefiting the community

  • Sustainable mechanisms are needed to protect the undeveloped land from future development (such as conservation easements, conservation reserves, parks and natural areas, buffers and setbacks, etc.)

How can it help maintain natural infrastructure?

Municipalities can use bonusing programs to protect natural infrastructure through (e.g.,) offering a bonus in exchange for park land or open space that will be protected from development, or for ‘greener’ development that has less impact on the natural infrastructure system. Municipalities can also strategically align bonusing programs with other tools, such as cluster development to ensure a connected natural infrastructure system.

Resources

Green Bylaws Toolkit: for conserving sensitive ecosystems and green infrastructure 

This document is an important resource for understanding how municipalities can safeguard the environment, from a regional to a site level. It clearly explains each tool, and provides case studies and examples of bylaws that are in use in British Columbia. This document includes a section on Amenity Density Bonus and Amenity Zoning, providing a description and examples.


Oakville, Ontario – The Ontario Planning Act allows municipalities to secure public benefits in exchange for allowing additional density and height of developments. Oakville has created a bonusing procedure to complement other policies and ensure clear and consistent direction of the tool.


City of North Vancouver, British Columbia – North Vancouver’s Density Bonus and Community Benefits Policy outlines the types of community benefits are a part of the program, and guides council to making decisions that provide greater certainty and consistency.


AUMA Municipal Planning Hub - This Hub was developed to provide members with a basic understanding of land use planning in Alberta. This document includes information on density bonuses.


Protecting Riparian Areas: Creative Approaches to Subdivision Development in the Bow River Basin. A Guide for Municipalities, Developers and Landowners – Designed to assist municipalities and those thinking of developing rural land in the Bow River Basins, this document includes a section on Bonusing.

Did we miss something?

If you know of a resource that should be on this list - or your municipality has a sample or case that should be here, please let us know!