3 Ways to Improve the Municipal Development Approval Process

NAIOP Vancouver brings together a diverse group of commercial real estate professionals. Members of this experienced chapter have worked in different jurisdictions across Canada, and have seen how other municipalities approach the development approval process.

At a recent Breakfast Event, we asked Chuck We, VP of Leasing at Oxford Properties, and Geoff Heu, VP of Development in Western Canada at GWL Realty, to weigh on in new structures and systems they’ve been inspired by which would benefit the local market.

“Coming from Toronto, one of the things our development team says to me is, “Why can’t Vancouver have a Board of Variance?” said We.

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A Board of Variance can look at what the developer is trying to achieve, and offer ways to improve minor variances to what’s already withstanding.

“In Toronto there’s a structure where we can go to the Board, articulate the issue, ask what we would need to change, and get input on how we can get things approved in a creative way. This saves a lot of time for everyone.”

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We says another municipality he’s been inspired by is actually in our own backyard. In Surrey, The Economic Development Office Donna Jones invited several members of NAIOP Vancouver to brainstorm new ideas to grow the city’s economic development.

“One idea that came up was when [a developer] rezones a property, they risk their property taxes going up. They’re carrying that risk into their pro forma. So how can we minimize this when we’re looking for tenants?”

The group thought about introducing a formula where the developer pays old property taxes initially, then leases up to 50% of the site, and therefore cuts down the property taxes by 50% so they can attract more tenants.

“This system was enacted in Bridgeview, when Frito Lay got approved. This minimized controllable development risk, inspired developers to put more capital into the area, and now the city has the proof of concept and property tax revenue. So there are creative ways to speed up this process where everyone wins.”

When Geoff Heu was looking for development permits on the North Shore, it was clear to him where he wanted to build.

“The District and City of North Vancouver are very different in terms of their approval process. In the District of North Van, you have to apply for preliminary rezoning. Then normal rezoning. Then the DP process. We move over to the City of North Van, and they’ve combined rezoning and the DP process. So instead of feeling like you’re going through the ringer three times, it’s all done in one shot. From a risk point of view and moving things forward, so we saw that a really big difference.”

Do you have suggestions on ways to improve Metro Vancouver’s permit approval process? Tweet @naiopvancouver and let us know! 

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