The City of Fernie has moved to throw the net wider when it comes to delegating ‘minor’ development variances to staff, instead of a council decision.
At the September 26 regular council meeting, councillors voted to approve including some parking variances, heritage alteration permits, and some subdivision exemptions within the previously passed delegation bylaw (from May 2022), that was adopted to streamline the permit process by skipping the need for ‘minor’ bylaw variances to go to council.
Under the amendment which received first, second a third reading on September 26, off-street parking variances can now be regarded as minor if the variance is asking for a less than 50 percent reduction of the required spaces under the zoning bylaw.
“Staff believes that, when justified through a report from a qualified registered professional, a reduction in off-street parking can be granted,” reads the staff report. “Focusing housing affordability, and employee housing, reducing parking decreases the cost of development, making housing more affordable for purchase or rent.”
Reducing parking by up to 50 percent for some applications is supported by the Official Community Plan (OCP), which includes reduced parking as a means to encourage the development of new housing.
However parking came to be a point of contention, with one councillor voicing disapproval of including it as a ‘minor’ variance.
Councillor Phil Iddon said that parking was “always a sticking point when there’s an expansion”, saying that parking came up often across neighbourhoods in Fernie as a major problem. He said that efforts to lean back from parking would be unpopular.
Councillor Kevin McIsaac disagreed, saying that for the most part, residents appeared happy with how much parking there was, but “there are a few bad actors,” saying he believed the issue was less parking availability, and more enforcement of parking bylaws.
When it came to the vote, Iddon was the only councillor against the amendment.
Another item included in the amendment was heritage alteration permits, which the report noted hadn’t been addressed in the delegation bylaw. Heritage alteration permits will now be regarded as minor variances. A final item included was to do with subdivision fronts on a Hwy.
Items already included under the delegation bylaw as potentially being minor variances range from setbacks, building height and parcel coverage. If variances exceed certain parameters they must go to council.
The intention of the delegation bylaw, broadly, it to streamline processes, speed up permit times, support housing development and free up staff time. The delegation bylaw, and its amendments can be found on the City of Fernie website.
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