The Regional District of Central Kootenay is currently struggling with a backlog of building permits waiting for approval. Photo: Pixabay

The Regional District of Central Kootenay is currently struggling with a backlog of building permits waiting for approval. Photo: Pixabay

RDCK building permit frustrations boil over

RDCK officials say they’ve seen record numbers of permits and activity

by John Boivin

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice

Area directors in the Regional District of Central Kootenay say they want to know what’s being done to improve turnaround times for processing building permits.

At the meeting of the Rural Affairs Committee on August 18, Area A director Garry Jackman said he has been hearing complaints from contractors and homeowners about delays in processing permits.

“I fully understand it is not business as usual,” he said. “So when you are under stress, are there some ways to streamline, are there impediments to efficiency and can the board do something to help staff?”

RDCK officials say they’ve seen record numbers of permits and activity, and have done 600 more inspections this year compared to 2020 – and the department is short-staffed. The turnaround time for permits varies from six-to-eight weeks, which is a bit shorter than earlier this year.

Building manager Chris Gainham noted the wait time in Abbotsford is 16 weeks, is 12 weeks for Surrey, and eight weeks for Fernie.

“We’re all trying to get on top of it, and are looking for ways to be more efficient and more effective while still delivering good service,” said Gainham.

‘Out-and-out baffling’

There are several problems behind the backlog, Jackman said, including staff departures, more complicated inspection standards and training requirements, and a 50 per cent increase in applications received.

Jackman said there’s an urgent need to address the problem, as homeowners and builders face monthly increases in the costs of labour and materials.

“Owners are worried,” he said. “And we are hearing from contractors. They have fixed overhead – machinery, tools. The bills are ongoing, whether there is cash flow or not … and interrupting cash flow with building permit issues is creating some issues that I believe will cause some sabre-rattling in the short term.”

One example of problems from the RDCK end is redundant or unnecessary comments on permits that can take time and money for contractors or homeowners to clear off.

“I see a stamp on a drawing here that says, ‘no parking adjacent to house,’” said Jackman, citing a specific example he said had him ‘scratching his head.’

“‘PN to review any surcharge for foundation for parking area,’” he said the stamp read. “Is that note on every document everywhere? ‘No parking next to house’?”

While he said there were some useful inspector notes on building drawings, he cited others that had unnecessary comments or call-outs to well-established code requirements.

“They go on and on. The notes and the time to put them out on the documents is baffling me. Out-and-out baffling me,” he said. “This amount of effort for motherhood comments on drawings is perhaps misdirected. Let our staff focus.”

Involving municipalities

Local municipal governments that hire the RDCK to do their building inspections were not at the meeting, as the Rural Affairs Committee is made up of RDCK rural area directors only, not municipal directors.

Area D director Aimee Watson said they should be part of the conversation, and suggested they be invited to the RAC meeting in September to give their views on the issue.

“The amount of stuff I am getting about building itself is phenomenal, and a lot of it is sitting with the Village of Kaslo,” she said. “The Village themselves are having a lot of problems, so I think this is a really in-depth conversation and I’d like us to be more prepared for it.”

Staff said that would work, but asked for two week’s notice on any questions to give them time to prepare answers.

“It’s imperative in this circumstance this not be done on the fly,” said RDCK manager of building development John Southam. “If we’re going to be expected to answer questions put forward by some 18 participants, it’s reasonable for the department to expect the 18 participants … put forward their questions well in advance, so we have time to respond.

“And we’re not kind of roasted, shall we say.”

Testy exchange

Southam added he heard the frustration in Jackman’s voice and he wanted “to move away from where we have exasperated directors and we instead have factual responses.”

The comment rankled Jackman.

“I’m not commenting out of exasperation or frustration,” he said. “I’m commenting on behalf of builders and residents, who are seeing mounting costs, and I want fast and efficient rectification of any roadblocks, inefficiencies, diversions, and unnecessary information.

“This has to be as business-like as it can possibly get,” he continued. “It matters to our economy. It should not be characterized as exasperation. It should be characterized as a very business-like operation and manager Southam, I hope you appreciate that to the core.”

“I’m not sure how to respond to that,” said Southam after a pause. “Let’s say I hear you.”

The matter will come back to the September Rural Affairs Committee meeting.