Council hopes signs like this one will become a thing of the past after launching a review of its building permit process. The sign posted last year on Dieppe Road says developers are better off building in Langford than Saanich, after it took a duo of developers more than five years to get their property rezoned and building permits in place. (File photo)

Saanich launches review to speed up permit process

Concerns about the processing speed and costs of building permits have prompted Saanich to launch a review of its practices, a review that staff promise to complete by the end of June 2018.

Saanich council earlier this month approved a review of the building permit process in responding to long-running concerns about Saanich’s process.

“One of the things that every member of this council hears about is that Saanich is one of one of the slower municipalities when it comes to building permits and getting through that process,” said Coun. Colin Plant. “While I’m not sure that I’m disappointed in the fact that Saanich takes its time and is very thorough in the work it does, because we have a beautiful community, I’m sensitive to the fact that people are saying, ‘you can do better’ and our job is councillors is always to do better.”

Coun. Fred Haynes said the study promises to give both industry and residents the confidence that Saanich is listening to their concerns.

“I’m very pleased with it [the proposed study], and I really like the methodology,” he said.

Saanich’s processing speed of new building permits — or lack thereof, depending on your perspective — broke into full public view about a year ago, when the brother owners of Saanich company Islands West Produce posted a sign next to their Dieppe Road property that urge others to skip Saanich for Langford because municipal staff had been slowing in issuing various permits over the course of a process that has lasted at least five-and-a-half years.

The sign in front of the property says read in part that “[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.”

The issue will also consider whether Saanich’s processing fees are appropriate. Casey Edge, executive director of the Victoria Residential Builders’ Association, said Saanich should change its inspection fees.

Saanich, as many other municipalities, calculate fees on the value of construction, which includes contractors’ profit, workers’ compensation liability insurance, and other factors having no relationship to the cost of delivering inspection services, he said.

This practice, he said, has yielded Saanich big surpluses over the years.

Chief administrative officer Paul Thorkelsson said Saanich is aware of this industry concern, but suggested Edge overstated his case.

“What council has to understand is that this is not a surplus generated by building permits,” he said. Service fees support a wide range of services that go beyond inspection, he said.

“Those revenues actually apply to a laundry list of other functions within the organization that support the inspection process,” he said. “We will bring that forward and clarify that both with the industry and council through this process, and it will be part of the report that will come at the end.”

Council heard that the final report would arrive by the end of June. While efforts to review the permitting process date back as far back as early 2016 following a recommendation from Saanich’s Planning, Transportation and Economic Development Advisory Committee, the installation of Saanich’s current CAO (Thorkelsson joined in January of 2016, shortly after the initial recommendation) and new staff caused delays.

Several councillors said they were pleased to see the review move forward in praising its speed. Coun. Leif Wergeland, however, said more could have been done earlier. “Surely staff, senior staff, would on an on-going basis look at efficiencies in our system in how we can better serve our community,” he said. It shouldn’t need to come as a report.”

Thorkelsson said staff are generally always looking for efficiencies, noting that council specifically initiated the review.

“This has been a specific request of council [as part of its strategic planning],” he said. “That is why we brought this forward.”

Wergeland responded that he did not aim his comments at anyone specifically, but at the municipality at-large, including council.

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