In March, when a group of disgruntled land developers descended on Sooke council to vent their frustration over what they described as a broken system of getting building permits, they got little disagreement from Mayor Maja Tait.
“The whole process is a mess,” said Tait at the time.
The mayor said the problem developed over time, and together with acting chief administration officer Don Schaffer, she promised the system would be repaired and improved.
Her big promise? Permits would see a turnaround in 10 days, as opposed to the current six months.
That goal has been met, said Raechel Gray, the district’s deputy director of financial and corporate services
“We were able to get caught up through teamwork,” Gray said.
“Staff recognized the problem had gotten to an unacceptable level, worked together to streamline the review process, prioritized the work and ensured the applications we received were complete which allowed for a faster review.”
The question of complete applications is a sticking point for at least one developer.
Herb Haldane, who was instrumental in organizing the March meeting with the mayor, maintains part of the way municipal staff have cleared their backlog has been to shift the onus for work back to the developers.
“Now I have to go and find every single covenant attached to the subdivision (I’m working on) and make certain that they are included in the application. Every subdivision has covenants, and they have a record of those, but now I have to get someone to do it,” Haldane said.
“If they make it more onerous the chances of having a complete application go down and then any delay is my fault.”
Jeff Steele, of Stellar Homes, said there is a requirement to search out covenants affecting his applications, but said he has always done it that way and didn’t see it as an unusual situation.
“I can’t comment on how long it’s taking now. The last permit I took out took me more than three months, but that was before they committed to speeding things up. I applied for one today so I guess I’ll see in a couple of weeks how they’re doing,” Steele said.
The same wait-and-see attitude was on display when local developer Paul Clarkson was asked for his opinion of the success of the changes.
“I’ve yet to test the system, so I can’t say whether they’ve sharpened their pencils or not. Let’s hope so, but I’ll have to wait and see it with my own eyes.”
Gray said that part of the problem in processing permits was related to an influx of applications last December, before the B.C. Building Code changed.
“After the December influx of permits new permit applications have slowed down a bit which helped the staff catch up on the backlog,” she said.
Gray added that they are looking forward to the arrival of a new chief building official, who arrives in August and who “will provide valuable knowledge and experience and will help us further improve our permitting process.”
The number of permits received and issued from December to May are similar to prior years (average 160 permits issued/year) however the issues with our previous permit review process were compounded this year due to the fact that we had an influx of applications in December, 2018 before the BC Building Code changed which caused the backlog to grow to an unacceptable level.