Saanich could speed up the process times for developments by reducing or eliminating opportunities for public input.
Council, meeting Monday as committee-of-the-whole Monday, will consider a report that spells out options to speed up the process for development applications. Local developers have historically complained about the time that it takes developments to work their way through the bureaucratic and political approval process, a point that the report acknowledges.
“Despite significant changes over the last 15 years, the desire for faster development review remains for Saanich and many communities throughout [British Columbia],” it reads. “Staff continue to try and balance the desire for shorter processing times with the increasing demand for information to make decisions with and the community’s desire for meaningful engagement and participation.”
To this end, staff following council’s direction have development a dozen proposals that promise to improve the process. At least two of these options point towards fewer opportunities for public input.
One option could see Saanich lessen the time window during which outside agencies include community associations could respond to development proposals.
Saanich requests outside agencies to respond within 30 days. But as applications have become more complex, and supporting documents more numerous, community associations cannot always respond within this time frame, especially during the summer months and other vacation periods when associations typically do not meet on a regular basis, it reads. The report also notes that some community associations do not respond until applicants have arranged to meet with associations and consult with the neighbourhoods that they represent. Additional delays may also arise from community associations asking staff for more resources.
“While community association input is essential, it is one aspect of the process that can delay completion of the staff report and consideration of an application by [council],” it reads. “Council guidance on whether they wish to set a specific time frame for community association responses, would be helpful.”
Another presented option recommends reducing the number of required council meetings. Rezoning applications, the report notes, typically appear before council four times: committee-of-the-whole, first reading of the bylaw, public hearing and final reading. “While this provides multiple opportunities for public feedback, it does lengthen the development application review timeline,” it reads.
What is the alternative? Saanich could eliminate the committee-of-the-whole meeting and focus input to the public hearing. In this scenario an application would appear before council two or three times specifically: approval at first reading, thereby sending any application to public hearing. If council felt the application “was worthy of approval” following public hearing, it would then convene a council meeting the same night to grant second, third and final reading, assuming no requirements for the preparation and preparation of legal documents. If required, Saanich would hold a third meeting.
Notably though, the same report proposes increasing the number of available council meetings following Saanich’s 2017 decision to hold regular council meetings and committee-of-the-whole meetings on separate evenings. This change, the report notes, has reduced the number of committee-of-the-whole meetings during which councillors could review applications.
Other options potentially impacting public input opportunities include a review of the role that the Advisory Design Panel plays and forgoing public input on items such as certain antenna applications that remain out outside municipal jurisdictions. “While the current approach is well intentioned, [council] is not the decision maker on these applications,” it reads. Staff could still notify local residents that would be impacted, it reads. They in turn can also directly contact relevant authorities.