Another attempt at streamlining the process for development permit applications in North Saanich has been delayed — but this time by the councillors who are seen as more favourable to growth than others.
At the Dec. 16 District council meeting, Coun. Dunstan Browne asked that a new policy that would allow staff to directly approve or reject development permit applications — thereby making the process a lot faster — be postponed. The reason, he said, was to allow councillors to further question language used in the draft bylaw, review a landscaping contingency fee and clarify the appeal process should a permit be turned down.
Browne and councillors Conny McBride, Craig Mearns and Ted Daly — generally considered a majority who support added development in the community — all voted to postpone the bylaw after it had already been advanced at the Dec. 9 committee of the whole meeting.
In an apparent reversal of roles, it was Mayor Alice Finall and councillor Elsie McMurphy and Celia Stock who wanted to get the bylaw in place to allow staff to advance development permits based on current council policy.
“This has been going on for a long time,” said Finall, noting the drafting of the bylaw started around June of 2012. “It’s to delegate the approval process for development permits to staff. As long as an application adheres to the District’s guidelines, council wouldn’t have a lot of say.”
It’s a common practice in other municipalities. In neighbouring Sidney, for instance, staff have the authority to consider such applications, only advancing their final recommendations to council for review.
Finall said this is allowed under the Local Government Act and said she’s at a loss to explain why councillors wanted it postponed this time.
“We have talked about getting a more efficient process in place,” she said. “I heard nothing substantive from the councillors for why they wanted the postponement. Their reasons are not clear.
“It’s a surprise that we’re still dithering over this.”
Browne said he was being cautious in what he termed a fundamental change in North Saanich’s approval authourity.
“This process would,” he said, “take the approval process away from council’s hands.”
Browne added he thought this issue could be subject to abuse.
Finall, McMurphy and Stock all stated to some degree they thought the move by the majority indicated there was “something at play here” that they just didn’t understand.
“To me, [Browne] is fearful of a policy taking control out of the hands of council,” said McMurphy. “It’s a matter of whether council wants staff to have the control or keep the status quo.”
McBride and Daly said there’s no rush on this and they have been asking questions raised by citizens.
“I have some reservations,” admitted Browne. “I don’t oppose this but I’m asking that the bylaw be held.”
His request passed in a 4-3 vote.
Concerns over policy change
Coun. Dunstan Browne wanted the development permit application streamlining bylaw held up based on a few concerns:
• A 125% contingency fee for developers. This, explained Chief Administrative Officer Rob Buchan, applies only to landscaping plans, to ensure they are completed.
• Number of council votes required in a development permit appeal. Browne wanted to clarify if it’s a two-thirds majority or simple majority of council votes to allow an appeal.
• Other wording concerns in the draft bylaw.
While the proposed bylaw would allow municipal staff to approve or reject development permit applications based on existing policies and regulations in the District, any request that would require a variance of those bylaws would still be dealt with at the council level.