The Regional District of Nanaimo board has endorsed a comprehensive service review of the district’s development approval and building inspection process.
Electoral Area F director Leanne Salter made the motion at the special board meeting on Dec. 14, with the goal of reducing the processing times. She indicated she had been inundated with calls from developers and engineering firms who have raised concerns about the slow approval times for building permits.
Instead of improving the situation, the RDN is getting further behind and she said it is costing developers and builders money.
“I can say for the past three years since I have been here, it hasn’t gotten better,” said Salter. “It’s gotten worse.”
To speeds things up, she suggested service review funds be allocated to pay for a consultant to complete the analysis, similar to the direction recently taken by the City of Nanaimo.
The board supported the motion but it was not unanimous. It was opposed by Parksville directors Ed Mayne and Adam Fras, Qualicum Beach director Brian Wiese, Nanaimo directors Erin Hemmens and Ian Thorpe and alternate Electoral Area C director Charles Pinker.
Mayne said development permits basically ensure plans for houses or buildings follow the B.C. building codes. He pointed out he has done a lot of building across the country and that this is the only region he is aware of that does things differently. When he wants to build something, he hires the engineers to draw the plans and architects give their stamp of approval, which Mayne said should be sufficient.
“Nobody in the building department should be questioning whether that set of plans is in conjunction with the building codes or not,” said Mayne. “The stamp by the architects and the engineers coincide with that. Why is it that we take six months after our engineers have drawn plans according to the building code and then in turn we spend six more months for somebody to review it to say, yes it does coincide with the building codes? That’s where your problem is occurring here.”
Last September, the RDN received a $457,000 grant to improve its development application processing. The goal is to upgrade the RDN’s technology to make the processing more efficient. The project started in November but it will not be completed until the end of 2022.
Salter said waiting another year is going to cause more grief to a lot of developers wanting have their building plans approved sooner.
“We have turned this into the most onerous process that I have ever seen,” she said. “So we need to do something.”
Manager of long range planning Paul Thompson said the RDN’s resource level in the building department has been stretched to the limit due to staff moving on or retiring.
“When we had full complement of staff and the building permits weren’t as numerous as they currently are, we had a very much shorter waiting time,” said Thompson. “If you look at where we got to where we are now, it’s largely due to the sheer volume and the actual staff available. Those are the two biggest factors.”
Salter made a motion to hire temporary employees to assist with the backlog of permits. It was again supported by majority of the board with opposing votes coming from Nanoose Bay director Bob Rogers, French Creek director Lehann Wallace and Nanaimo directors Don Bonner and Hemmens.