The City of Fernie is working on a new project that would make it easier to handle the steady stream of development brought on by the housing crisis.
The three-part project would make it less challenging for citizens to navigate the building development application process and would reduce workload on city staff. City planning manager Derek Cimolini discussed the project during the Fernie Chamber of Commerce annual general meeting on April 20.
The city, with help from Vancouver-based consultant McElhanney, is drafting a set of recommendations to streamline the building application and permit process, from the pre-application period to permit application intake, and from referrals to follow-up. It is also creating a handbook that would serve as an application guide for developers.
Cimolini said that city staff were spending so much of their time doing applications, that they weren’t able to focus on long-term housing projects. By making the process more straightforward, applications could be processed more quickly.
Funding for the project comes by way of grants from the Union of B.C Municipalities’s Local Government Development Approvals Program, which the city applied for in 2021.
The third part of the project involves the creation of a permit tracking software that would allow applicants to stay up-to-date on the status of their file as it is reviewed. It would also facilitate communication with applicants if any further action is required from them during their approval process.
A needs assessment is currently underway to determine what type of tracking software would be best. Cimolini said actual implementation of the software will not happen until next year.
Creation of the bylaw recommendations document and the developer’s handbook will finish by August.
Project development comes after a series of in-person and remote workshops and meetings indicated public support for the endeavor. McElhanney will release a project summary report to the public later this month, based off of this feedback.
This is one of many projects the city has undertaken in the past five years to help encourage housing development. Last year, it amended a delegation bylaw to allow variances to be issued by staff rather than council for building projects that do not have any negative neighbourhood impact. A variance is a request that a property owner submits to the city, if they would like to deviate from current zoning laws during building development. Cimolini said this has reduced the timeline for variances from six to eight weeks, to one to two weeks, and has freed up more than 250 hours of staff time, which has since been reallocated to longer-term planing projects.