City of Surrey gives itself guaranteed timelines to approve building permits

Oct 19 2021, 9:41 pm

With the intention of providing builders with greater accountability, certainty, predictability, and reduced risk, drastic changes to the City of Surrey’s permitting process proposed by city staff have been approved by city council.

As a measure to address growing delays, the municipal government will be implementing guaranteed permitting timelines.

Single-family rezoning reports to city council must be completed in no more than 12 weeks.

For larger rezoning reports such as multi-family, commercial, and industrial applications, the guaranteed timeline is within 16 weeks, although there is an additional three to four weeks of processing time for applications requiring a level of review by the city’s Advisory Design Panel.

The municipal government already has a target of 10 weeks for building permits for single-family homes and tenant improvements, but this will now turn into a guaranteed permitting timeline.

In a report, city staff described this self-mandated approach as a “dramatic shift in the service delivery ethos” that is necessary to “enhancing customer service.”

“The guaranteed permitting timeline addresses a significant issue that builders have, which is when will they know if the permit has been approved or not,” said Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum in a statement.

“Surrey has proven to be a prime destination for new residents and businesses. That’s why Council has taken this significant step to improve the speed and predictability in the land development approval process. The guaranteed timeline will result in less idle time for builders and more accurate completion dates for people looking to move into their new home or business space.”

After extensive consultation with the development industry, this approach is a measure that is expected to help support housing affordability by helping keep costs low and accelerating the delivery of housing supply.

Other approaches to improve the overall permitting system include improved internal and external communications, the implementation of a planning department call centre this year that can handle up to 400 calls daily and provide a single point of contact, and expanding the use of pre-application meetings to reduce the volume of poor quality or incomplete submissions that tie up staff time and result in further delays for proponents.

Digitization is also another major area to improve efficiency and customer service. The city will use a $500,000 grant it recently received from the provincial government through the Union of BC Municipalities to further expand the use of online and digital processes. Nine other cities in Metro Vancouver also received a grant towards improving their permitting.

In 2020, the city launched an online single-family dwelling permit application process for building permit applications in recent subdivisions. This has freed up city staff time, as about 35% of online applications are submitted outside of regular business hours, when staff are not at work.

According to the city, between January 2019 and December 2020, single-family homes accounted for 31% of new construction, townhomes were 21%, high-rise apartments were 31%, and low- to mid-rise apartments were 17%. Building activity remains high even during the pandemic, with Surrey recording a building permit value of $1.46 billion in 2020, beating the 10-year annual average.

The City of Vancouver is also looking to improve its permitting efficiency and improve certainty. Last week, city council approved ways to improve certain steps in the business licensing and permitting process, and it is also set to consider ways to speed up residential permitting.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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