While they may not arrive at Sooke Municipal Hall on Wednesday wielding pitchforks and torches, local builders are intent on making a point as they arrive en masse for a meeting with Mayor Maja Tait to talk about their growing frustration with the building permit process.
“I imagine that there will be at least 30 people who will attend, but I wouldn’t be surprised if 50 or 60 come along,” said builder Herb Haldane.
“Right now it’s taking three months to get a building permit in Sooke. That’s just unacceptable and it’s driving up the cost of housing in Sooke.”
Haldane said builders must have financing in place before they can apply for a building permit and that means “the clock starts ticking” on interest charges.
“If it takes them three months to get a permit they’re paying charges for all that time. They will end up passing those costs along on the eventual cost of the building.”
Haldane said he does business in other municipalities and that the average time for the issuance of a building permit ranges from two to three weeks in Colwood to a startling eight days in Langford.
Sooke’s acting chief administrative officer Don Schaffer said the municipality is aware of the problem and has taken steps to try to streamline the process.
“Part of the problem is that some applicants will come forward with incomplete applications that are missing items like proof of title. That slows down the process for everyone, but it’s not the only problem,” Schaffer said.
He said there has been a backlog of permit applications that developed over time due to staff shortages and the municipality is doing its best to clear through that backlog.
Municipal staff is working to get the time frame for issuing a building permit down to seven working days, Schaffer said.
One of the challenges of addressing the backlog, though, is still tied to the staffing at municipal hall.
“We’ve had a posting for a building official out there for months, and we’re not alone. Many municipalities are having trouble filling this position,” said Tait.
“Right now we have one building inspector and one plumbing inspector processing a record volume of applications. We’ve addressed this by including more positions in the draft budget. That should improve the situation.”
For his part, Haldane doesn’t accept the explanations, preferring to attribute the backlog to a corporate culture in which micro-managing and a lack of expertise on the part of the existing staff.
“It seems that every department in Sooke gets a kick at the building application, whether they need to or not. That doesn’t happen in other municipalities. There, the plans are only referred to a department if there’s a need to do so,” Haldane said.
“What I see at this city hall is a culture of insubordination, obstructionism, and even vindictiveness. This is my 30th year in the building trades and this is the most frustrated I’ve been. There is not a single councillor part of the building industry, and I believe that we’re (the builders) are not represented at that table.”
“We’re aware of the problems and are working to solve them, but lowering standards and creating a buyer beware environment in Sooke is not in our community’s best interests,” Tait said.
The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday (March 20) and Tait hopes that several issues can be resolved.