City of Fernie city hall. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Building permit wait times at eight weeks in Fernie

It takes an average of eight weeks before a application is reviewed at the City of Fernie

Local developers are taking issue with extended wait times for building permit processing, which can take up to eight weeks, however, officials with the City of Fernie say that incomplete permits requiring additional dialogue with applicants are partially to blame.

During discussion at the May 10 council meeting on the most recent numbers for permits issued within the municipality, Mayor Ange Qualizza said that she had been informed by members of the building community that the waiting period before a building permit was even reviewed was between 12-14 weeks, and asked for information on what was happening. Director of Planning, Bruce Lennox said that the waiting period was shorter than that, at around two months.

Mayor and council requested information on what could be done to help expedite the process, with Mayor Qualizza saying that she wanted to know if there was a way the city to help be “part of the solution and not the problem,” especially given the widely-reported building boom across Canada and North America, and subsequent pinch on building supplies leading to increased costs.

According to Manager of Planning, Derek Cimolini, the number of building permits being submitted alone was not the cause of the delays, but rather incomplete submissions leading to a lot of ‘back and forth’.

“There’s a lack of sourced information that prospective developers – from mom and pop to major developers – can get on what is required to make a complete application,” he said at the meeting, explaining that as a result a lot of city staff time was taken up assisting with completing building permit applications before they could even be processed.

Cimolini later told The Free Press that eight weeks was the city’s target service level during peak times – such as during the spring and summer building season.

He added that many of the permits applied for came with supplementary permit requirements (floodplain, character etc) that resulted in more back and forth between the city and the applicants.

“While it works to ensure compliance and eventual permit issuance, it does slow down the building permit approval process.”

General Manager of local development company Parastone Developments, Simon Howse said he had been told the wait time was longer than eight weeks, and that the wait times on building permits were a drag on construction activity and had flow-on effects on the local economy.

“I know of people not building this year and in fact I know one customer decided to sell their lot instead of building and move to Cranbrook … It is having a big negative impact on our local economy that filters down to all retail including coffee and lunch places as well as restaurants and pubs in the evening,” he said.

Howse said that incomplete applications being submitted to the city were a part of the problem, but added that it seemed that all applications whether they be small renovations or new construction on entire homes which required professional sign-off were subjected to the same processes in the application system, gumming up the system.

“It’s also a breakdown in communication between planning and building – something that’s been consistent over the past 10 years.”

Howse, who has been operating in Fernie as a developer for over 20 years, said that the city’s planning department required renewal in order to overcome issues with its permit turnaround times.

The city has applied for a grant that could potentially be put towards developing a tool on the city website to let prospective developers know what the current waiting period is for development applications, with the grant announcement pending. Currently there is no way to find out about waiting periods without asking the city.

In the most recent building official’s report for April, the City of Fernie issued 15 building permits with a value of $2.9 million. Year to date, the city has issued $5.3 million in building permits.

Graph of value of building permits issued in City of Fernie. (Source: City of Fernie, created by Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Graph of value of building permits issued in City of Fernie. (Source: City of Fernie, created by Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

According to city documents, at the same time last year $4.3 million in permits were issued in April 2020, while the year-to-date value was over $7.7 million, meaning Fernie is now behind by $1.4 million compared to April 2020, and $2.4 million year-to-date. Overall, 2020 was a bumper year for the city when it came to value of new construction, with over $39 million worth of permits issued by the end of the year- up from $32 million in 2019, and $20 million in 2018. Some $12 million in permits issued in 2020 were from one multi-family project in September – the Trites-Leroux Heritage Revitalization Agreement.

In the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK), it takes four weeks for regional district staff to process a complete building permit. Across the RDEK’s various area subdivisions, more than $12 million of construction value was permitted in March (April numbers are yet to be released) from 59 permits issued.

In neighbouring Sparwood, the current turnaround for a complete building application is 7-14 business days. In April, $417,345 worth of permits were issued in the district.

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