A multi-year effort to streamline the City of Vancouver’s development and permit processes has been accelerated by its response to COVID-19, and resulted in a digital transformation of how it supports businesses and homeowners.
The City has shifted from a paper-based system with in-person meetings and review, to a digital ecosystem where people can apply, meet and participate from anywhere.
“Over the past several years we’ve been focused on extensive service improvements driven by stakeholder and business engagement, technology improvements, and adding more staff to process applications,” said Jessie Adcock, General Manager of Development, Buildings and Licensing, on Wednesday. “This multi-year effort created the foundation for a nimble response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and we have quickly been able to move our processes online to best serve the community and start of an economic recovery.”
The online shift includes:
· Permit applications are online or drop off only (e.g. 99 per cent of trades permits online)
· Virtual project review appointments and meetings
· Online community engagement, open houses starting in June and public hearings
· Virtual Public Hearings and Urban Design Panel implemented in May, Development Permit Board and Heritage commission / committees late summer
· Virtual inspections for some buildings, plumbing, gas and electrical work
· Live online chat and web improvements to make information easier to find online, including updates to Development and Building Permit webpages and engineering standards
· Consolidating and publishing online engineering design manual, standard detail drawings and specifications
“A great example of the shift we are making is open houses. We’re going from holding a single event where staff share information with individuals one-on-one, to having a longer online Q&A with City staff and all content, slides and modeling available,” said Gil Kelley, General Manager of Planning, Urban Design and Sustainability. “This online shift encompasses all aspects of our project intake and community engagement, including holding rezoning public hearings online, and made it easier and faster for businesses to apply and get advice from our expert staff, and lowered barriers for our community to participate in our processes.”
On Tuesday night, the City’s first virtual public hearing involved input from close to 60 residents and resulted in approval of projects that will support a small business, and create new job space while maintaining an existing heritage building. With physical distancing orders in place, and elected officials setting an example by attending meetings virtually, the public is being asked to provide comments at a Council meeting or public hearing by phone or through written, audio or video submission online.
Efforts to transform planning and development processes over the past year illustrate how the City has enabled this digital transformation:
· Regulation Redesign program simplifying and clarifying land use regulations to make them easier to understand and implement
· Streamlined process to expedite affordable housing project review
· Expanding the Commercial Renovation Centre to provide more support to businesses seeking to make changes to their premises
· Engineering design and construction manuals moved online
· Streamlining engineering rezoning review from 35 weeks to approximately 22 weeks, in addition to other lean six sigma enhancements for the development review process in Engineering Services
· Re-establishment of the Policy Implementation Advisory Committee to ensure the effective implementation of new and existing policy
· Establishing a multi-disciplinary group of staff to explore and recommend changes to our development and permitting process with a view of creating more clarity, certainty and predictability in our development review processes.
“Engineering has made great strides over the last couple years to enhance our processes that support development, through lean process improvements and standardization” said Lon LaClaire, General Manager of Engineering Services. “This has enabled our staff to pivot to electronic and online formats throughout the COVID response.”
The City says these online improvements are also helping it better support residents, businesses and community partners as it looks towards recovery from the pandemic.
For the latest information on what is open and other COVID-19 information, check the City’s website vancouver.ca/covid-19 or its social media channels.