Public information meetings for rezoning and council approval for all permits are on the chopping block, as the District of Squamish aims to streamline development application processing.
Since the 2011-’12 municipal Core Services Review, staff have sought to expedite projects coming through municipal hall’s doors, district planner Sarah McJannet told council on Feb. 12. Currently, all land development approvals require council approval, which can take several weeks, she said.
Delegating development and small-scale temporary use permits, with the exception of liquor sales, to a municipal general manager would remove a layer of bureaucracy and delay, McJannet noted.
“By delegating certain permits, we can relieve bottlenecking,” she said.
It’s a common practice in many municipalities, McJannet said. Staff reviewed Bowen Island’s and Sooke’s bylaws. Permits eligible for approval by a district general manager will still be subject to the same internal and external agency review to ensure the projects meet municipal guidelines, regulations and code.
A key component to the new procedure would be transparency, Coun. Patricia Heintzman said. She suggests staff provide quarterly reports on projects underway.
“I just want to make sure that it is open,” she said.
Along with the approval shift, district staff propose to scrap the mandatory public information meeting for all rezoning applications in favour of an online comment forum.
On average, hosting one of these gatherings saddles developers with a bill of $1,000 to $3,000, stated the report to council. Last year’s Citizen Satisfaction Survey indicated only two per cent of residents surveyed opted to attend the meetings to gather information.
“Attendance of public information meetings is low,” McJannet said.
Staff propose to create a webpage highlighting new development applications. An email link for comments would be provided, supplementing the paper-based questionnaires handed out at public meetings. The site would also host a “click to request a public meeting” box and a meeting would be triggered if the district receives more than 10 requests in the first 21 days of the posting. The website could also showcase municipal projects.
“We understand there are some projects that do need public project meetings,” McJannet said.
It’s a great initiative, Heintzman said. The website should allow the public to see other residents’ positive and negative comments, she said, noting that’s an important part of public information meetings.
“I don’t want to lose the interactions that could happen, over the website,” Heintzman said. “I don’t want to sanitize it too much.”