City of Vancouver cuts red tape for businesses by simplifying permitting and licensing

Oct 15 2021, 7:58 pm

Vancouver is open for business. That is the message the City of Vancouver wants to send to prospective retail, restaurant, and service-related businesses looking to establish or expand their presence within the city’s borders.

During a public hearing on Thursday evening, Vancouver City Council approved major changes to the permitting and business licensing process, in response to growing complaints from frustrated businesses that months-long delays and conflicting requirements add up to significant costs — both costs for renovations and ongoing rent despite not being able to generate revenue to cover expenses. Many of the applicants are family-owned small businesses.

But according to city staff, the approved changes — tackling some of the most problematic and time-consuming issues with the existing policies — are estimated to reduce roughly 3,800 weeks in application processing time, and reduce the significant backlog in unprocessed applications.

A major change is the relaxation of the previous requirement that a development permit application be submitted when changing uses between general office, retail, healthcare office, barbershop, beauty salon, and beauty and wellness centre. It is estimated that this change will save up to 135 new businesses between eight and 20 weeks of processing time each year.

Additionally, as a further relaxation on uses, the threshold for meeting vehicle parking minimums has moved from 2,153 sq ft to 3,229 sq ft.

vancouver business change use

Business use changes in Vancouver, Spring 2020 to Spring 2021. (City of Vancouver)

The need for complex and costly renovations will be reduced for businesses looking to open in smaller spaces. Currently, the subdivision of a commercial unit into two or more suites with a non-loadbearing dividing wall is treated by the city as a major renovation. To address this, this kind of work will be downgraded to a minor renovation, which does not trigger expensive work.

As well, the “small suite” classification is now relaxed to allow for occupant limits of 100 persons — up from the previous 60 persons.

Both strategies related to suite size are anticipated to cut up to 17 weeks of processing time for about 45 permits annually.

A change to simplify application requirements for residential and commercial renovations is expected to accelerate the process by one week.

The city expects these changes will free up more office staff to review applications, and some details can be transferred to field inspectors for review to help clear the backlog.

twg tea 929 robson street vancouver

TWG Tea is opening a new location at 929 Robson Street in downtown Vancouver, in a unit previously used as Tesla showroom. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

As for changes to the overall development permit process, the applications can now be accepted, paid, and processed online, resulting in time and cost savings to businesses, and reducing the reliance on paper-based work and in-person visits. This past summer, the City of Vancouver was one of over 40 cities across BC that received funding from the provincial government to improve their building permitting processes. Nearly all of the nine recipient cities in Metro Vancouver received about $500,000 each, including Vancouver.

The range of changes were compiled by a task force led by the city manager, following a direction by city council in March 2021 — through an approved motion by city councillors Lisa Dominato and Sarah Kirby-Yung — to explore ways to reduce processing times with $1 million in funding.

In June 2021, city council also approved changes that reduce 10,000 hours of permit review time for residential applications, including changes to single- and two-family dwellings in some neighbourhoods resulting (12 weeks faster per application), simplified landscaping and tree protection review for demolition permits and renovations (three weeks faster), and a partial relaxation of the tree bylaw (two weeks faster).

City staff’s task force will recommend further changes to speed up permitting for residential applications in early 2022.

Just last month, a new permitting process allowing builders to start excavating their construction site sooner for certain building uses was approved by city council.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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