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Sooke could solve its exasperating building permit delay problem by changing the building by-law, the district’s administrative manager said.

Norm McInnis said staff were taking a three-phase approach to the problem by reviewing the reasons for the backlog, revisiting the building regulations and bringing the process online by September 2023.

It takes an average of 43 days for planners to approve plans for new build single-family homes in Sooke, but property developers complain the process is taking longer.

“I believe we know the issues,” McInnis told district council Monday. “We are not alone. This is a systemic problem across the province.

Building permit delays have plagued the Sooke District for over 20 years.

Council imposed a 48-hour turnaround time in 2012, but did not make it a policy. Demand for permits increased over time, and in 2016 the council was warned that staff capacity had been reached.

The problem came to a head in 2019 when the developers demanded a meeting with Mayor Maja Tait and the council. The problem was fixed for a short time and resulted in the hiring of more staff and reduced permit approval times.

Community growth in recent years and the COVID pandemic have added further delays, with the district recently hiring a temporary construction worker.

“For many years, the issue wasn’t increasing staff, and at one point we didn’t have a planner in the district and only two building inspectors,” Tait said.

Staff identified several issues, including that Section 11 of the Building Regulations – building application requirements – is too cumbersome. They also look at items that might be discretionary and not necessary with each permit. Recommendations to change the by-law to make it more conducive to faster building permit approvals will be made soon, with a final report to council expected shortly.

“We need to make sure that Section 11 is targeted and that we’re not asking too much, but also that the municipality isn’t taking undue risks,” McInnis explained.

He said many communities with faster approval times request specific geotechnical, architectural and engineering reports before approving a building permit.

“The district would like to see a development permit in place before the building permit, but we are being choked in some areas of the (official community plan),” he said.

The number of ownership covenants that applicants must meet before issuing a permit is also a concern.

“Yet one of the biggest problems is incomplete or poorly developed apps,” McInnis said.

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