The owners of longstanding Saanich company Islands West Produce have taken a cheeky shot at city hall.
After a five-year process to develop the family property, brothers Ian and Wayne Fatt made the decision to erect a sign on 4227 Dieppe Rd. that says, among other things, to develop in Langford instead of Saanich.
“We made the sign because we’re pissed off,” Ian Fatt said. “No [builder or developer] wants to open their mouth to criticize Saanich because they have to continue to work with people [at municipal hall] to get a permit.”
In 2011 the Fatts submitted the original plan to Saanich to rebuild their facility and to rezone a portion of the property to develop 33 townhouses and eight single family homes. The permits for those 41 homes are now in place, with construction on the way, but they are still waiting for a building permit for the new 44,000 square-foot facility. And while the brothers anticipate getting it this month, they say the fact they applied for it on Sept. 9 shows the process is too long.
The sign in front of the Dieppe Road property says, in part, “This extremely lengthy process is mostly due to Saanich’s inability to process a rezoning and permit application in a timely fashion. It has taken almost six months for a building permit alone. If you are thinking of doing business in or with the municipality of Saanich, start young or go to Langford.”
At times throughout the past five-and-a-half years the brothers would go months without hearing anything from Saanich. And every time an amendment is requested, the cost of resubmitting the drafts and blueprints costs thousands.
Add in the cost of putting the growth of your business on hold for five years and it’s unreasonable, Fatt said.
“We’re not developers,” he said. “Basically, we [are comfortable saying this because] we don’t ever intend to build or develop in Saanich again.”
Their family has farmed the land going back to the late 19th century. In 1967 a parcel of it was zoned commercial while the rest of it was recently rezoned from agriculture to single and multi family.
Islands West’s new commercial facility will replace the current site, a series of outdated buildings and a warehouse-sized temporary tent shelter. With the new hub, Islands West can expand its Saanich-based business as a major wholesale distributer of vegetables to grocers and restaurants. They expect to add to the staff of 110.
Coun. Fred Haynes isn’t upset by the sign, and sees it as a demonstration of the disappointment from the owners.
“We have a process that provides high-quality developments in our neighbourhoods,” Haynes said. “Can we do it faster? Would it be faster if planning had more staff? These are efficiencies we have to look at.”
Haynes, who chairs Saanich’s Planning, Transportation and Economic Development committee, convinced council to approve a “review of the administrative processes to improve the timeline for building permits and development applications to be included in the 2016 strategic plan.”
That review is only being considered now, as there were delays such as the implementation of new staff and a new CAO (Paul Thorkelsson came on board in January of 2016, shortly after the PTED recommendation for a review was approved).
If it is revealed that a lack of staff is leading to delays in Saanich’s development and permit application process, then the question turns to where the additional resources will come from in an already scrutinized budget, Haynes said.
Coun. Leif Wergeland said he is disappointed the Fatts chose to erect the sign and pointed to the neighbourhood association response.
“All off us, council and staff, would like to see applications [proceed] faster, it’s an ongoing challenge,” Wergeland said. “But, having said that, it’s not always the fault of staff or council, but also the applicant. When you’re developing in a residential neighbourhood, you have these challenges.”
From the start, the North Quadra Land Use Protection Association contested specific elements of the project but Ian Fatt said they’re just too small to be given so much power.
“I went to the local community association meeting, it was maybe 30 people, and none were my immediate neighbours that are in support of the project,” Fatt said.
Casey Edge, executive director of the Victoria Residential Builders Association, said the sign has attracted a lot of attention. He also said Saanich is widely considered among local builders and developers as the slowest city when it comes to getting a building permit.
“Langford sets the bar across the region. As an example, it can take six to eight weeks for a simple building permit in Saanich that would take two days in Langford,” Edge said.
He said Langford also has some of the highest development cost charges in the region, but builders and developers are willing to pay it because of Langford’s fast turnaround. On the contrary, Edge knows builders and developers that will either charge more to work in Saanich, or refuse to work there altogether.
“This sign is not the only time I’ve heard this, it’s a common remark,” Edge said. “It shouldn’t have come to that, because we’ve been in discussions over many years, written letters to Saanich, sat in on committee meetings, and written about it [in the press].”
With all the talk about Langford, however, Wergeland had to ask, “Why is that “Mr. Fatt considers Saanich a valuable place to have a business.”