The province, recognizing the sometimes slow pace of the building permit process, is directing $15 million to help local governments keep things moving.
The B.C. Ministry of Municipal Affairs, in a press release Wednesday, Sept. 1, announced that the City of Nanaimo, the Regional District of Nanaimo, Islands Trust and 40 other local governments around the province would be receiving grants to streamline housing approvals.
“Local governments play a critical role in making sure the housing people need in their communities is built quickly and meets local needs,” said Josie Osborne, minister of municipal affairs, in the release. “These grants will help them do critical work to modernize development permitting and approvals by removing barriers and streamlining processes.”
The City of Nanaimo is receiving $500,000, with which it will establish an online application portal and dashboard for reviewing existing processes and associated bylaws, and develop standard templates and guidelines, according to the news release. The municipality is also establishing a joint city-industry building permit advisory working group to work with the development sector to try to make improvements to the approvals process.
The city’s manager of current planning Lainya Rowett reported to city council this week that building permit processing times over the first seven months of 2021 averaged nine weeks for new single-family dwellings and 16 weeks for commercial, multi-family, industrial and institutional projects. Development permits for form and character averaged 28 weeks, development variance permits averaged nine weeks and re-zoning permits averaged 61 weeks.
Rowett said those wait times can fluctuate, and pointed to a number of reasons including busy staff and requirements to address public comments and design advisory panel recommendations and obtain provincial approvals. She noted that wait times are also inflated due to delays on the applicants’ end. She pointed out that on 13 ‘outlier’ applications, city staff spent an average of six months on each application waiting for responses.
Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog said in the press release that the grant would help reduce permit processing times, improve the transparency of the process, and provide clear and consistent application requirements.
“The pace of development in Nanaimo in recent years demonstrates that the city is a great place to live and invest in,” the mayor said.
The RDN is getting $457,000 for a property database update and efficiency improvements, and the regional district noted in a separate news release that it is seeking a system to improve efficiency of the development approval process and allow applicants to review the status of their applications online.
The regional district says it processes more than 700 permit applications annually and “the number of complex development applications and inquiries is increasing.”
RDN chairman Tyler Brown said in the release that the regional district understands the needs for businesses and individuals to receive timely responses to their applications and related inquiries.
“The grant enables the RDN to conduct a strategic needs assessment to find the best technological solution to respond to the hundreds of applications received each year,” he said. “The assessment phase of the project will ensure priorities identified by the public are addressed while also confirming technical and implementation requirements can be met.”
Islands Trust is receiving $368,000 to improve its development application service delivery and for related technology improvements.