White Rock council members praised city staff for addressing the backlog of building permit applications at a regular meeting Monday (Sept. 25).
Anne Berry, director of planning and services for the city, provided council with an update on the permit process, noting that the information provided to council in a corporate report “really is a snapshot in time,” as the volume of applications the city receives changes on a daily basis.
“It’s definitely a success story and we wanted to provide council with that information,” Berry said at the meeting.
The report recounts how council directed staff to issue a Request for Proposal for temporary contracted building permit application review services on Jan. 30, 2023, in order to assist with reducing the current volume of applications awaiting review and permit issuance.
“Over the course of the previous 1.5 years the city experienced a high volume of building permit applications, combined with numerous vacancies in the building division, which were challenging to fill,” the report states.
“This has resulted in an unsatisfactory permit review wait time, necessitating additional staff resources in the division, prompting council to authorize the hiring of a building official III and a clerical support position for the planning and development services department. As filling the current and new building official vacancies has been particularly challenging, staff also looked to hiring casual staff to help keep the application flow moving,” it states.
In March, Pontem Consulting Group Ltd. was awarded the contract for consulting services for building permit application review and inspection services on a “time-durated basis,” with a $150,000 budget.
In April 2023, there were 76 building permit applications in queue for review, the report shows.
By July 2023, there were 23, and as of Sept. 14, 2023, there were 11.
The report notes that the numbers “do not reflect the actual number of building permit applications in process, only those that were yet to be pulled from the queue for review,” as in many cases, multiple rounds of review are required before a permit can be issued, and, as Berry noted to council at the meeting, building application volume is fluid and constantly changes.
“There are currently 501 active building permit files in the review process or issued for construction with the city. It should also be noted that this number does not include any subsequent permits like plumbing, sprinkler, and tree permits that support building permits.”
Approximately $67,000 of the $150,000 allocated has been used, with additional work to be completed by the consultant this year, and staff also recommends carrying forward any unused funds to 2024, with further discussions anticipated during the 2024 budget process, the report notes.
“In summary, the services being provided by Pontem Consulting Group Ltd. and the casual building official staff has resulted in a significantly reduced wait time for building permit application reviews since March 2023,” the report says.
Mayor Megan Knight thanked Berry, council and city staff for their work.
“I’m very happy with this report… when I look at those numbers they’re very impressive. I just want to thank you along with council and your department and how you’ve rearranged your work to get this done,” she said at the meeting.
Coun. Ernie Klassen and Coun. Bill Lawrence echoed her thanks, with Lawrence noting they city is still short-staffed in the planning department.
Berry confirmed to the Peace Arch News in an August interview that, while the clerical position has been filled, the building official 3 position has not.
In addition, there was a vacancy earlier in the year, meaning there are now two vacant building official 3 positions to be filled.
“We currently have two vacant positions – one of them is the position that council created, and one of them is the other building official level 3… an existing building official position is currently vacant in addition to the new building official position,” said Berry.
Many of the applicants for the building official positions simply, aren’t qualified for the provincial requirements that are necessary for the position, Berry said.
“The province sets certain training standards – qualifications that they’re required to have… the main challenge is that we just have not been able to fill those positions with qualified candidates.”
At the meeting, Coun. David Chesney had one more question for Berry.
“I see the doors are now open in Miramar Plaza… it appears Thrifity’s is full steam ahead. Any idea of a projection for opening?” he queried.
“I think all we can say at this point is there’s an active permit and it’s up to them to complete the requirements,” Berry replied.