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Photo: Kevin Wells/Flickr 

The average time it took to process a low-density development permit in the City of Vancouver last year was 28.6 weeks, three times longer than the average wait time three years ago, according to a Planning and Development report presented to city council on Tuesday.

In 2013, the City took 8.6 weeks to issue permits but with the market being among the hottest in the nation, the City’s General Manager of Development, Buildings and Licensing, Kaye Krishna, says staff are struggling to keep up.

“A lot of new policies that have been put in place — the complexity of development has increased as well,” said Krishna during Tuesday’s council meeting. “So those two factors have made it quite challenging,” she added.

The findings don’t include rezoning permit wait times, which Krishna says makes up a large amount currently in the pipelines.

Last year was nearly a record-breaker for the city as it saw 8,300 applications filed, the second highest volume of permit applications ever. The total for 2016 only fell short when compared to 2014, when 8,700 applications were filed.

So far this year, the rate of permits being filed is on pace with 2016-to-date volumes, says the report.

With a surge of permits coming in, the City’s long-standing input/output ratio for permit processing of 95 per cent dropped in 2014 to 85 per cent output, according to the report.

Over the last two years, housing development has reached an all-time high and new policies have added steps to the permit process causing a delay in service, said Krishna.

“So, whereas before a lot of the low density housing development was outright. Now we’re doing many more infills, laneways and greater creativity on what we’re building on single-family lots,” she said.

To address the slowdown, the city has recently created support centres for small businesses, increased staff size and made improvements to the efficiency of their website dedicated to permit processing.

Over the past six months, City staff reviewed the planning and development process of permits by engaging with stakeholders.

Key messages gathered from the feedback include conflicting and outdated building permit policies, unpredictable development timelines, redundancy in reviews and inefficient customer service.

Going forward, City staff plan on addressing this feedback by updating their policies and improving delivery and staff efficiency with the rollout of two pilot projects.

The streamlined low-density housing pilot is aimed at expediting laneways, possibly creating a ‘nexus lane’ for high performing applicants and training requirements for developers before they apply for permits, according to the report.

City staff say they will present a progress report on the pilot’s success this summer.

A second pilot project will also be launching this year aimed at prioritizing affordable housing permitting, according to the report.

This pilot plans to quicken the decision-making process and streamline rezoning, development and building permits, while also enhancing customer service levels.

An update on this pilot will be provided to city council later this month. City staff say they will also provide regular updates to council throughout the year about both pilots’ progress.

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