Tips for Fast Forwarding City Permits and Approvals

Time translates into money in the development business. For anyone who has dealt with applying for permits for a new site, then you know just how frustrating it can be. On average, it can take 14 to 18 months to receive word on whether you’ve got the green light.

During a stable market, developers have accepted this lengthy process. But what happens when the market’s not as stable, and each month that passes comes at a premium cost?

Graeme Silvera, VP of Retail Development at Ivanhoe Cambridge, asked current developers in Metro Vancouver to share strategies that they’ve used in past projects to reach deadlines and approvals successfully.

Collaboration is Key

“It comes down to dialogue,” said John Conciella, COO of Serracan Properties. “When we were proposing to do a mixed use project in 2009 at 13th & Lonsdale, we knew there would be challenges.”

“This was a unique project at the time, as we were building 45% of the building for commercial use, and the balance residential. The City of North Vancouver was implementing [Community Amenity Contributions] but didn’t have any real policies set in place. So they were going to charge us at the commercial rate, despite the majority being residential.”

As we all know, commercial developments pays five times the tax rate at residential. Conciella went back to the City and emphasized the opportunity this project would bring.

“It would employ 200 people, and become an anchor that would have an impact on this community. Every other municipality would have loved this opportunity.”

Conciella said he took a collaborative approach, working together with the City of North Van to create a policy in which the project would work for both parties.

“The success of this project approval was a result of having an open mind and two willing parties coming together to create something from scratch.”

He notes it also takes tenacious developers. “No means yes. It wears you down or brings you up, there are only two ways.”

Hire the Right People

When Geoff Heu, VP of Development in Western Canada for GWL Realty Advisors, embarked on developing a 160 unit market rental in Lower Lonsdale, he knew he was going to face some serious challenges.

“We have a very thin margin of error. We’ve got some nasty neighbours that we know are going to protest because we’re blocking their views. We also have 64 rental tenants that we have to evict. There’s a lot of risk for us, so we had to ask ourselves, how are we going to ‘de-risk’ it?”

In addition, Heu and his team do not have the relationships and contacts that they typically do in other municipalities. North Vancouver is a completely new city to them.

“We decided to look around to similar projects, and hired the same team. From a credibility standpoint, you can find people with the right connections. Yes, these guys aren’t cheap. But the risk of not hitting your timelines, or compromising on the density and design, is worth it.”

They also had to think of their reputation, as evicting 64 tenants is not something that they want to do, but have to in order to make the project come to life. That’s why they’re working with tenant relocation specialists to make the process easier for those involved.

“My advice is to hire experienced people and consultants. The right people can open doors for you. They’ve taken us to meet the mayor, the councillors, and the staff. And now, we’re feeling pretty good.”

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