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Policy Tracker: Implement the Development Approvals Process Review (DAPR)

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Implement the Development Approvals Process Review (DAPR)

For years, chamber members have expressed significant challenges posed by local development approvals processes across the province.

As a result of the pressure from key stakeholders, the Development Approvals Process Review (“DAPR”) was initiated by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, in collaboration with various stakeholders, to address challenges and identify opportunities for improvement in the current development approvals process and to support local governments in eliminating barriers to affordable housing and accelerate the construction of the homes they need in their communities.

DAPR consultations brought together diverse stakeholders from organizations across the province, enabling the Ministry to undertake a broad review of the development approvals processes. Throughout these consultations, several opportunities were identified that would guide and assist local governments and the province in revising and improving development approvals processes. The challenges and opportunities that were identified are laid out in a comprehensive report dated September 2019 (the “DAPR Report”).

Within the DAPR Report, the Ministry confirms that “…the development sector has grown and changed over the past few decades to become one of the largest industries in the province. In 2017, residential development alone was responsible for nearly $12 billion in wages and nearly 200,000 jobs. Strong demand has increased competition for building sites, particularly in high-growth areas, resulting in shorter option periods when acquiring land. This creates great risk for developers and heightens the need for certainty at the outset of the development process.”

Further, the purpose of DAPR is to “empower local governments to eliminate barriers to affordable housing and accelerate the construction of homes people need.”

The Ministry has confirmed that that Phase 4 – the implementation phase – of DAPR is underway, however there has not been any significant changes enacted to date.

The opportunities presented in the DAPR Report would significantly improve the development approvals process and should be implemented.

BACKGROUND:

The DAPR Report was prepared in September 2019. This process was initiated as part of the Ministry’s commitment to empower local governments to eliminate barriers to affordable housing and accelerate construction.

DAPR consists of four phases, with the first three focusing on stakeholder consultation. These consultations identified the key challenges and opportunities felt by the stakeholders and formed the basis for the DAPR Report. The Ministry noted that phase four would include consideration and analysis of particular opportunities in consultation with stakeholders and implementation of solutions as appropriate.

Specifically, the following is a summary of the key issues, challenges, and opportunities set out in the DAPR Report:

1. Local government application process

The local government processes for planning and land use are flexible, which has resulted in considerable process variations and differing requirements between local governments.

The specific challenges include inconsistent guidelines, complex requirements, a lack of transparency, and a lack of consistency between local governments.

The opportunities identified by these challenges include triaging applications, implementing a digital permit tracking system, creating a model Development Approvals Procedure Bylaw, best practices, improvement to staffing education and training, support from the provincial government, and minimum liability insurance for professional positions.

2. Local government approval processes

A. Delegation of authority

The Province provides authority to local governments for development approval tools under several pieces of legislation: the Local Government Act, the Community Charter, the Building Act, and the Vancouver Charter (applying to Vancouver only). Legislation specifies which decisions must be made by elected officials, which may be delegated to staff and which must be made by staff.

The specific challenges include issues around requiring an elected official to approve various applications, which lead to increased timeframes and uncertainty, and the necessity of approval where an application aligns with the Community Plan.

The opportunities identified by these challenges included empowering elected officials delegating to individuals to approve, reframe legislation, implement an appeal process, training and/or best practices guide for conducting meaningful and robust public consultation process for OCP and pre-zoning, and delegate approval for subsequent applications.

B. Public Input process

Public hearings are required for all development applications that seek amendments to OCPs and to zoning bylaws that are not consistent with the OCP. Public Hearings can be waived for rezoning that are consistent with the OCP, however many local governments choose to hold a public hearing regardless.

The specific challenges include that the public hearing process is ineffective and typically occurs late in the development process after significant costs have been incurred. They also attract and empower interest groups that may not have the community’s best interest in mind and may not even be impacted by the application.

The opportunities presented by these challenges include improving the public hearing process including receiving more meaningful, earlier input from the public, advertising requirements, and using OCPs in the development approvals process, including provincial funding for the OCP updates and removing the requirement for public hearings for minor amendments.

3. Development finance tools

Development finance tools play a significant role in the development approvals process as they are key mechanism by which local governments invest in the infrastructure, services, and amenities needed to support new development. These are often in the form of development cost charges (DCCs) and community amenity contribution (CACs).

The challenges identified include the fact that DCCs do not provide funding for maintaining and replacing infrastructure and can only be collected for limited uses. As such, local governments have increasingly relied upon CACs to address public expectation for a range of neighborhood amenities, however CACs are unclear and create considerable cost and approval uncertainty.

The opportunities presented by these challenges include conducting a comprehensive review of the development finance tools including defining CACs in legislation, removing the ability of local governments to levy CACs, create a new development tool called Super DCCs, new best practices guidance, secure and provide more reliable funding for local governments as a means of reducing funding pressure from DCCS and CACs, and training.

4. Subdivision

Subdivision applications must be approved by an approving officer appointed under the Land Title Act. Approving officers are quasi-judicial officials who act independently to ensure that subdivisions comply with provincial acts and regulations, and with local government bylaws for official community plans, zoning, servicing, and other plans and bylaws.

The challenges identified include uncertainty around the role of the approving officer, inadequate training opportunities, low capacity, and preliminary layout plans are not used consistently, although useful for the developer.

The opportunities presented by these challenges include developing enhanced communication material about the subdivision approval process, providing regional district the authority to have their own approving officers, developing model letters that governments could use to provide guidance to proponents early in the process, and enabling governments to use cash-in-lieu for parkland dedication more widely.

Overall, the Guiding Principles established by DAPR include:

  1. Achieves Outcomes in the Public Interest
  2. Certainty
  3. Transparent Access to Information
  4. Collaborative
  5. Flexible
  6. Timely
  7. Balanced

THE CHAMBER RECOMMENDS:
That the Provincial Government:

  1. Recognize and create a plan to implement the DAPR Report as a whole;
  2. Implement various opportunities set out in the DAPR Report through both legislative and non-legislative changes; and
  3. Work together with local municipalities including providing education around DAPR and assistance in implementing the opportunities presented in the DAPR Report as set out in the foregoing legislative and non-legislative changes.

Resources:

Development Approvals Process Review Report Sept 2019.pdf (pending)

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