Sooke might fix its exasperating building permit delay problem by altering the building bylaw, says the district’s chief administrative officer.
Norm McInnis said staff are taking a three-phase approach to the issue by looking at the reasons for the backlog, reexamining the building bylaw and bringing the process online by September 2023.
It takes planners an average of 43 days to approve blueprints for the new construction of family homes in Sooke, but land developers complain the process takes longer.
“I believe we know the issues,” McInnis told district council on Monday. “We’re not alone. It’s a systemic problem across the province.”
Building permit delays have dogged the District of Sooke for more than 20 years.
Council mandated a 48-hour turnaround time in 2012 but did not make it a policy. Permit demand increased over time, and by 2016, council was warned that staff capacity had been reached.
The issue came to a head in 2019 when developers demanded a meeting with Mayor Maja Tait and council. The problem was rectified for a short period and resulted in hiring more staff and reducing permit approval times.
Community growth in recent years and the COVID pandemic added more delays again, with the district recently hiring a temporary building official.
“The problem for many years was not increasing staff, and at one point, we didn’t have a planner in the district and only two building inspectors,” Tait said.
Staff have identified several problems, including that Section 11 of the building bylaw – requirements for building applications – is overly burdensome. They are also looking at items that could be discretionary and not needed with each permit. Recommendations to tweak the bylaw to make it more conducive to quicker approval of building permits will soon be made, with a final report to council expected soon.
“We need to make sure Section 11 is focused, and we’re not asking for too much, but also that the municipality is not taking undue risk,” McInnis explained.
He said many communities with faster approval times ask for specific geotechnical, architectural and engineering reports before approving a building permit.
“The district would like to see a development permit in place before building permit, but we’re stifled in some areas of the (official community plan),” he said.
The number of property covenants applicants must address before issuing a permit is also a concern.
“Still, one of the biggest issues is incomplete or poorly developed applications,” McInnis said.