Councillors in Sechelt are welcoming the changes being proposed in a major overhaul of the district’s development procedures bylaw, which includes a chance to give an early yes or no to big projects.
Director of planning and development Tracy Corbett presented a draft of the changes to council at the Oct. 3 meeting.
The amendments include a lot of technical detail and updates to the procedures for things such as development permit areas, notifications to the public about applications and delegation of authority, which outlines which type of decisions can be made by the planning department and which have to be referred to council.
The proposed update also includes an idea known as a “permission to proceed” report, which Corbett said was “the most significant” change to the process for developments that “are either very large scale or a major departure in policy.”
Corbett said the permission to proceed report would be a way to get those major projects before council early so councillors can weigh in on issues such as whether the application should be subject to broader public consultations. It would also give council a chance to give developers a “go or no-go.”
“When we’re dealing with a big development, this is extremely costly for the applicant … so if there just isn’t the comfort level there to go down that road, or [council] wants to see a significant change to it, it provides the opportunity to provide that guidance early,” Corbett said.
Coun. Mike Shanks said the permission to proceed report addresses a concern he’s had for some time.
“I think what you’re [proposing] is huge to the development community,” he said. “So often we proceed down a path where we can cut [an application] short right away if we have a preview and recommendations and a committee or council gets a look before big money is spent, and I think we owe that to the applicants.”
The idea of getting a chance to give a thumbs up or thumbs down early on also appealed to Coun. Darnelda Siegers.
“By bringing this forward by a permission to proceed, the community also gets a heads up, and they can weigh in and let us know, ‘yes, we like this direction’ or ‘no we don’t,’ and staff and the developer do not spend a lot of time and money moving things forward that the community is not in support of,” she said.
Mayor Bruce Milne said another advantage of Corbett’s proposal is that it would formalize the typical scenario of developers making an initial approach to the mayor or planning head. “Then they say, ‘Well, is council going to support this? Does the community like this?’ and it’s a hard judgment call to make in the mayor’s office.”
Council passed the updated Planning and Development Procedures Bylaw unanimously through three readings, meaning it could be adopted before the Oct. 20 municipal election.