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City of Vancouver launches digital permitting tools for housing

Announcement follows the province setting its sights on becoming a digital permitting leader
Vancouver City Hall stock
New digital permitting resources are meant to streamline housing approvals and reduce uncertainty, according to the City of Vancouver.

The City of Vancouver is launching new digital permitting resources for housing in a bid to speed up approval timelines and streamline processes.

The city plans to introduce the Project Requirements Exploration Tool (PRET) and eComply this summer and early next year, according to a June 13 announcement.

These are meant to reduce the time needed for staff to manually review applications and provide “confidence” to applicants that their applications are being reviewed, the city said in a statement.

PRET will be an interactive tool for applicants to “explore and understand regulations and requirements for locations throughout Vancouver,” according to the city.

This can be used to identify potential future costs, project timelines and feasibility.

The city’s second tool, eComply, will be used to check if designs and drawings for any given project follow regulations. This was developed by Australian property research platform Archistar.

“Embracing technology for permitting will have a huge impact for Vancouver’s residents and businesses,” Mayor Ken Sim said in a statement. “Applicants will receive feedback on any items that are incomplete, missing or not permitted so they can resolve it before they submit their application.” 

Complex projects typically require multiple rounds of manual review by city staff.

These tools are said to reduce the uncertainty that can come with complex housing approvals.

Julian Kendall, vice-president of development at Cressey Development Group, said that any any steps taken to make the permitting process more efficient are welcome. 

"I'm a bit skeptical just about some of the more complex things that we deal with, it'll likely get bounced ultimately to a person. But I'm hopeful for some of the more simplistic things that this will cut out at least some time upfront," he said. 

He sees the eComply program as having more potential for impact as it will inform developers if they are missing anything in their designs and drawings. In contrast, PRET is a self-check list that developers can use to explore project feasibility. 

Overall, Kendall sees these future additions as a way to reduce some front-end complexities but may not get the job done when it comes to projects with lots of units and complex details. 

These additions follow an April announcement by Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon, who said at the time he intends for B.C. to become a leader in the digital permitting process. The province earmarked a $9-million grant to the Vancouver-based Digital Supercluster, a non-profit dedicated to advancing digital technology.

The three-year grant will be dedicated to accelerating the creation of new technologies in the construction sector, according to the Ministry of Housing.

“On average, more than 70 per cent of the processing time for laneway and low-density homes remains outside of the city with applicants,” said Andrea Law, the city’s general manager of development, building and licensing. “To help applicants, we continue to simplify policies and guidelines so the application process is less complex.”

The first iteration of PRET will be available later this coming summer with the initial component of eComply ready in early 2024.

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