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City of Nanaimo preparing to test new fast-track building permit program

City partnering with development industry representatives on improvements to permit process
Nanaimo is ready to launch the first phase of a program to fast-track simple building applications. (News Bulletin file photo)

An advisory group working to speed up Nanaimo’s building permit process says everyone needs to be on the same page for a successful fast-track permit system.

Darren Moss, who co-chairs the joint building permit advisory working group with Jeremy Holm, city director of development approvals, said in a report to council Monday, Feb. 28, that the working group is ready to roll out the first phase of a fast-track building permit application system.

READ ALSO: Nanaimo explores ways to fast-track building permit applications

The advisory group is made up of the co-chairs and other city staff members and development industry representatives.

“I’m happy to say that everyone is still there around the table and, while there’s been some raised voices, there’ve been no fist fights or anything else, yet,” said Moss, managing partner with Nanaimo-based project management and property development company Tectonica. “I think that the group is still working very collaboratively together and coming up with some very thoughtful conversation and some good strong policies around how to achieve these goals.”

The group is ready to launch its first fast-track permit program for tenant improvement building applications involving simple remodelling and alterations to interior commercial building spaces that don’t include extensive or complex modifications to a building’s interior. Moss said the fast-track tenant applications will be an available option for tenants who meet the criteria. The goal is to approve permits within 15 days of applications being submitted.

The program will have a “soft start” educational period for applicants to learn the criteria and become more efficient when making subsequent applications, Moss said.

“I believe – and this is something that probably not everyone in the development community is going to agree with me on – it’s important that, if we’re going to make these programs a success, everybody buy into the process … because the goal is after we transition out of the education phase, to have a pretty strong idea of what a clean application looks like and then it’s the development community’s job to get that submitted.”

For its part, the city has added a fast-track program supervisor and a building official to review building plans submitted with fast-track applications.

“It’s already making a difference and, with some of the work we’re doing collectively with industry, you’re going to see bigger improvements,” Holm said.

He said the city received a $500,000 provincial grant for investments in technology, building function permit review implementation, a current planning process review and “a variety of items that have been lumped together as development approvals improvements overall.”

The technology investments include an improved online application portal with payment system and tracking system for applicants.

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it will be challenging adapting, adjusting, implementing a new system, but there’s definitely rewards to be reaped there,” Holm said.

Moss said improving the flow of the permit process involves city permit reviewers ensuring key elements in the applications are checked off and corrections made early “so we don’t get them coming back late in the process and sending us back to the starting point.”

“From the development community’s side, we’ve acknowledged that to achieve that and keep it efficient, we need to do a better job of handing in permit applications that are clean, well thought out and well documented, so that the reviewers aren’t spending their time looking for the information to verify that the information has been accurately assessed and the [building] code has been followed,” Moss said.

Coun. Don Bonner asked how the city will gauge the success of the program, and Holm said the city will be monitoring its process, especially the newly implemented programs, to see if it’s meeging target timelines.

Holm said in an e-mail that there is no hard start date for the fast-track permit stream. City staff are working with industry to identify a limited number of permits that will be run through the stream before rolling it out more broadly and the stream will be fully implemented in the early spring.

The working group intends to work toward expediting approvals of more complex applications involving safety and hazardous industrial considerations.

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Chris Bush

About the Author: Chris Bush

As a photographer/reporter with the Nanaimo News Bulletin since 1998.
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