A report recommends Saanich council delegate more authority to staff to speed up developments.
“Despite significant changes over the last 15 years, the desire for faster development review remains for Saanich and many communities throughout [British Columbia],” said Sharon Hvozdanski, director of planning, in the report.
It says Saanich’s process “has, over a period of several decades, become layered and complex, which contributes to the amount of time required by staff to process an application, and for the approving authority to render a decision.”
The report then lists current, planned and potential options to improve the development process, with council set to review the 12 potential options at a future committee-of-the-whole meeting for some time in April.
They recommend among others the expansion of staff’s approval authority for minor development permit amendments. “Minor amendments are generally approved in about two weeks as opposed to 4-6 months if consideration by [council] is required,” the report notes. “Providing greater discretion to the director of planning to deal with minor amendments by increasing the scope of changes that can be considered would reduce both processing requirements and processing times.”
Two other related options call on Saanich to pre-zone lands following the approval of major land use plans. Pre-zoning, the report notes, would “allow the vision to be realized more efficiently.” Under this scenario, developers would then only need to apply for form and character development permits. This option would require Saanich to update its design guidelines to ensure clarity for developers and help meet community expectations.
Saanich could also expand its delegation authority, an approach that can be beneficial, but also bear risks. When “applied thoughtfully,” delegation can improve processing times, it notes. When not “applied judicially,” delegated authority can increase demands on already-taxed staff in slowing development and other initiatives.
Other recommendations call for the prioritization of applications based on key objectives of the Official Community Plan, such as “affordable housing, creating a more “resilient local economy and diverse tax base.”
While council received the report, it pushed deliberations into next month to receive additional input from the public-at-large, community associations, and the development community.
“It would give me a much better idea of how these are going to satisfy the ultimate clients,” said Mayor Richard Atwell. “I’m just really a keeper of the process.”
Casey Edge, executive director of the Victoria Residential Builders Association, said the recommendations “mostly sound reasonable,” but urged council to follow through on their execution.
Edge also sounded a note of skepticism in his analysis of the report.
“The planning report says it takes four to six months to approve a simple development application,” he said. “One of my members has been waiting 14 months for his application.”