British Columbia

Vancouver builder hopes new fast track for permits will improve affordability

Just a couple of years ago, it took Vancouver city staff an average of more than six months to process building permits for a new home.

City pilot project will involve limited number of home builders and designers

The City of Vancouver is launching a new pilot project that attempts to reduce building permit processing times. (David Horemans/CBC)

Just a couple of years ago, it took Vancouver city staff an average of more than six months to process building permits for a new home.

Now, the city is hoping to bring that wait time down to between six and eight weeks for a limited number of experienced home builders through a pilot project meant to streamline the approval process.

The Applicant Supported and Assisted Process (ASAP) program will expedite the process for designers and builders with strong track records and includes 20-30 projects in its first phase, according to the city.

The program attempts to cut down on processing times by running different aspects of the application process at the same time, rather than one after the other, asking for some information at the beginning of the process rather than in the middle and issuing multiple permits at the same time.

'It'll make a huge difference' 

JDL Homes president Doug Langford said he's hoping he'll be asked to participate, but he's yet to receive an invitation.

"If the city can streamline their process and maybe look at changing things a little bit, I think it'll make a huge difference for homeowners and it'll just make our jobs a little easier," Langford told CBC News.

"It'll go a long way to making housing less expensive, because the way they were doing it, it was doing the exact opposite of trying to make housing affordable."

Last year, his company was contracted to build a laneway home in the city, and he said the lengthy permitting process added several months and thousands of dollars to the project.

As Langford tells it, the permit application went through several different layers of city bureaucracy before landing with the landscape department.

"Six months into the process, the landscaping department finally looks at the plans, and goes ... 'You need to change the design of your laneway house,'" Langford said.

Cutting wait times

The issue, he said, was a single tree in the backyard that the city deemed necessary to preserve. So, the homeowners had to hire an arborist, re-engineer a way to pour the foundation and commission more drawings before they could go back to apply for their permits.

"This is just one example of what can happen when you're trying to get a building permit, and this was just because of a tree," Langford said.

From what he's seen of the plans for the ASAP pilot project, he hopes it could prevent a situation like this in the future.

According to the city, recent changes to the permitting process have cut wait times for landscape reviews by 80 per cent.

ASAP is part of Vancouver's goal to create 10,000 new ground-level homes within the next decade. Last year, the city issued more than 1,300 building and development permits for new houses and laneway homes.


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