The City of Abbotsford is looking at ways to reduce wait times for building permits and make the process more efficient for applicants and staff.
Council on Monday (June 27) endorsed a “process review and modernization strategy,” which was previously identified as a priority under the city’s Strategic Plan.
Trevor Welsh, director of building permits and licences, told council that average wait times for permit approval for multi-family projects has increased from seven weeks in 2017 to 20 weeks in 2022.
Average wait times for single-family homes has gone from 6.4 weeks to 16 weeks in the same period.
Welsh said, since 2017, there has been a significant increase in the volume and complexity of development and building-permit applications.
Applications in 2021 reached an all-time high of 1,640 due in great part to pandemic recovery, he said.
Welsh said other communities are having similar issues.
“We are not alone in experiencing these increase to our wait times,” he said.
A staff report outlines areas in which improvements can be made, including in technology.
Welsh said the city is currently focused on a paper-based system, but upgraded software would make the process more efficient. He said this could include automated referrals and notifications being sent to applicants.
Welsh said improving the city website is also planned. He said online forms are currently available for checking on the status of a building permit, but the steps can be “quite overwhelming for residents, novice builders and new business owners.”
Welsh said the city has already received a $500,000 grant for digital development delivery which could be applied to the technological improvements.
Other associated costs would be requested through the annual budget review process.
Another suggested change is to divide the permit review process into four categories, instead of the current two, with a recommended timeline for approval.
Renovation and alteration permits would have an approval completion target of three weeks, while tenant improvements would be four weeks.
New construction and additions for homes would be five weeks, and new construction and additions for complex buildings would be six weeks.
Welsh said the city is also looking at “easy permit” or “fast track” options that some other municipalities are using and which involve dedicated staff working solely on those applications.
Council was in unanimous support of the report.
Coun. Dave Sidhu said he thinks the changes will be well-received and allow the city to run “a little more efficiently and reduce permit timelines.”
Mayor Henry Braun said delays in building permits have a financial impact to the city.
“The planning and building departments are economic generators and impact our cash flow … If we go from five weeks to 20 weeks for building permits, that means there’s 15 weeks of cash flow that we don’t receive,” he said.