It’s hardly a secret that Revelstoke has struggled over the past two years to keep up with a steady and increasing flow of construction projects needing to go through the city’s building permit and planning application approval processes. The local construction sector has been expressing concern over the issue for the past two years. This year, the development season was expected to be even busier, leading to concerns of more delays. And that was before the city’s only building inspector left the department earlier in the year. The position has yet to be filled.
The still short-lived construction season has been rocky. There are a limited number of staff in the City of Revelstoke’s planning department qualified to read over construction plans. The city has used building inspectors from other municipalities on a temporary basis as stopgap fix until a new inspector can be hired, however, on May 4 the city issued a public notice stating that the temporary building inspector was no longer in place, and there was no longer any building inspection services. The latest stopgap contracted assistance is expected to start within the next week.
Nigel Whitehead, the city’s director of development services, said the city continues to actively seek out a qualified building inspector, but the search hasn’t been easy. To add to the struggle, Whitehead said currently there are more job openings that available building inspectors in B.C.
“There’s been some close catches. It’s a choice for almost every applicant on where they want to be,” said Whitehead. “I’m hoping this contracted assistance will help relieve some of the backlog.”
In the public notice issued on May 4, 2018 the development services department said they are seeing improved and more complete applications coming in, allowing for reduced processing times. The planning department had a total of 74 active planning applications with 51 in process at the staff level. A total of 59 building applications had been received since December for the 2018 season. Of those, 35 building permits have been issued and 24 are in process.
Jordan Cochrane, owner of Jordan Cochrane Construction, was among those to submit permit applications early in hopes to avoid once again getting stuck wasting valuable construction time while waiting for approval. Cochrane said he submitted four permit applications, two in December and two in January. So far two have received the city’s stamp of approval. The other two were held up when the city lost its temporary contracted building inspection assistance. It’s not all bad news though, as Cochrane said the city has agreed to provide a temporary permit with a full permit to be issued once the newly contracted building inspector is able to review it.
Despite the still slow process, Cochrane said he is seeing the city move towards working with those in the construction industry to help alleviate the problems and create solutions.
“I think it got to the point where they didn’t have a choice. I feel in the past week they’ve really pulled it together and tried to figure out what to do,” he said.
Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce executive director Jana Thompson said the issues plaguing the city’s building and construction industry are well known and there needs to be a shift in focus towards working together to create attainable solutions. Recently, several member businesses reached out to ask what role the chamber could play in helping to alleviate frustration and advocate for solutions.
“There’s no secret that there’s issues going on. The city admits it, the mayor and council and certainly the builders and building community and all the trickledown businesses that are affected by that sector of our community,” said Thompson.
The chamber recently asked members from the construction industry for feedback on the issues. Thompson said the chamber discovered it isn’t only construction-based businesses who are impacted by the backlog of permit application delays, it’s also other businesses who reap the benefits of a strong building industry. Thompson said the role the chamber can play in advocating is to take the issues that are contentious and frustrating for members of the building community, take the anger out of it and find ways to work on solutions.
“We can act on so many small pieces on their behalf and they can keep working. We can chat with the mayor and council on their behalf and be the middle man,” said Thompson.
While there are still a number of issues to be resolved, Thompson said lack of communication was one of the most prevalent issues that came out of the chamber’s request to hear from its members impacted by permit application delays.
“People need much better communication and a lot more transparency,” said Thompson, who noted the need for improved communication needs to be in all directions.
Thompson said the city’s decision to provide the public with updates on building permit and planning application approvals is a good first step towards improved communication. However, she also said that solving all of the underlying issues is likely to take time.
For building contractors like Cochrane, the improved lines of communication are welcomed, but it’s still a waiting game in some ways and there are concerns that more delays could put those in the construction industry behind on project start times again.
“We have a short enough building season as it is,” he said.