Developers hopeful for change after City reviews development process

In recent years, developers wanting to build projects in Fort St. John, regardless of whether these projects are new businesses or housing developments, have been frustrated by what they feel is an expensive, time-consuming and unclear process.

The City too, has been frustrated with its own development permit process, and commissioned Tantus Solutions Group to review the policies, practices and bylaws used by the City of Fort St. John’s Development Services Department. After consulting with members of the development community, contractors, utility companies, Council and City staff, Tantus identified a number of areas that need improvement, and presented a report containing their findings and recommendations to Council last week.

The goal of the review is to create a permit application and approval process that is functional and efficient, trackable and reliable.

One recommendation that City staff implemented even before the report was presented, was to initiate a software program to manage the permit process. The permit was also divided into two permits, the first a Development Area Permit, which deals with zoning, form and character, and gives the developer early approval for the project. The second is a Development Servicing Permit which requires full engineering details.

“This was an area that developers has requested a change, as they did not want to have to spend funds to fully engineer a project if the concept had to change due to zoning or form and character reasons,” stated Victor Shopland, General Manager of Integrated Services for the City, in the cover letter of the report.

The Tantus review found, among other things, that not only is the application process paper-driven, but the application process is unclear to applicants and submissions are often incomplete and of poor quality. Improving the process by making most steps available on-line, including permit application, payment and an FAQ, as well as enabling applicants to track their applications on-line would go a long way towards streamlining the process.

Implementing single points of contact for developers, and improving the communication process, would address a number of concerns, the review found. Considering implementing more neighbourhood plans, implementing a performance management framework were also recommended in the review.

Lee Bedell, president of the North Peace Construction Association said, “The Construction Association is pleased with the progress the City has made by retaining Tantus to provide an evaluation on the current development procedures. For the most part, Tantus has outlined our primary concerns in their explanation to council. They have also suggested solutions for consideration that we too feel will improve the situation. We trust that their evaluation will encourage the city officials to continue working with the local developing community to improve current procedures.”

In order to go forward with the recommendations, Tantus also developed an implementation plan, outlining the tasks and projects needed to enable each recommendation. The majority of these are anticipated to be put in place within the next year to 18 months.

Here is a copy of the full review.