Vancouver City Council approves expedited building construction process

Sep 22 2021, 11:58 pm

Builders of affordable housing and cultural, recreational, and institutional projects in Vancouver will be able to seek permission to expedite the front-end of the construction process.

This week, Vancouver City Council approved a new permitting process that allows projects to start excavating their construction pit sooner — focusing on projects that provide a direct public benefit, including taxpayer-funded public sector projects.

Eligible projects include social housing, secured market rental housing, artist studios, community centres, libraries, parks, playgrounds, schools, hospitals, and childcare facilities.

This approach allows projects to reach completion sooner, and it provides businesses with more flexibility while other aspects of the project applications are finalized.

While there are clear benefits to expediting construction, city staff also warns there are inherent risks to soil shoring and retention activities for excavation pits. Requirements have been laid out for builders to take steps to ensure the stability of their construction sites.

There are added risks if the excavation site remains open longer while the builder continues the process of obtaining a development permit.

“Excavation and shoring is considered to be high risk engineering work that can result in significant public safety risk, as well as cause damage to physical assets such as utilities, roads, and other buildings. Shoring issues or failures have been recorded within the last few years,” reads a city staff report.

“Depending on the size and depth of the excavation, and associated risk factors, the City may establish additional requirements to ensure that the structure is designed to remain safe over a longer period of time. Additional monitoring and quality assurance will also be required. Public safety as well as the safety of adjacent property and assets will be carefully considered, along with legal obligations of the developer to safely maintain the shoring and excavation for a longer period of time.”

In January 2020, a portion of the rear parking lot of Congee Noodle House, located at 141 East Broadway, collapsed into the adjacent excavation pit of the Grand at 138 East 8th Avenue — a six-storey, 18-unit condominium building in the early stages of construction at the time.

The city issued an emergency order to halt construction, and the restaurant was forced to temporarily close as a precaution. The site was stabilized and construction was eventually allowed to resume, leading to the building’s completion last year, but the restaurant — later affected by the pandemic, too — still remains closed to this day. The restaurant owner is currently engaged in legal action against the developer and contractors for damages.

For the city’s new permitting process for early excavation, a letter of credit is required by the applicant to ensure a site will be returned to pre-excavation condition and made safe by the owner or if required by city staff. Development cost levies (DCLs) are required to be paid when a permit is issued.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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