Municipal staff are looking to streamline the development permit approval process, with a newly proposed bylaw introduced at last month’s council meeting aimed at removing bureaucratic red tape.
The bylaw, which received first, second and third reading at the Dec. 18 council meeting, proposes to streamline the development permit process in certain instances on land that’s been designated as a protected wetland, riparian or aquifer area. Under Whistler’s new Official Community Plan (OCP), which is awaiting approval from provincial officials before it can be adopted, development applications in these sensitive areas are required to submit a Site Investigation Report of the site conducted by a qualified environmental professional. This report should include a survey of the boundaries of the land parcel that clearly delineates any wetland, riparian, forested floodplain, old growth, mature forest, early succession forest, high mountain and avalanche track ecosystem, and any area that is within 30 metres of a high water mark of a stream and any area larger than 10 hectares that is situated within 100 metres of a wetland ecosystem. The bylaw is aimed at providing exemptions for minor development permits like residential improvements, so they can avoid the timely and costly site survey required for larger developments.
“We got advised by staff that development permits were required for a lot of areas, so that gave a lot of people going through minor renovations on residential properties a whole bunch of extra work, a lot of it seemed redundant,” said developer and town Councillor Duane Jackson. “It was highly demanding on staff time and it’s very frustrating for owners because it sort of created this timing uncertainty and yet there wasn’t a way that we could delegate or avoid it, so by the new bylaw coming in we can ask strategic questions. Does it trigger a riparian area assessment, are all the development permit requirements necessary, and how can we be more efficient and more focused on meeting the environmental requirements as opposed to making more bureaucracy?”
For developments that aren’t exempt, proponents will be required to provide a further assessment report by an environmental professional that makes recommendations as to how the proposed activity or development can be accommodated on the land in accordance with the allowed uses on that specific land parcel. If permitted development on the sensitive area cannot be accommodated without a permanent impact to the wetland or riparian ecosystem, the proponent will be required to replace or enhance habitat at a two to one ratio as determined by the environmental professional.
The new OCP received third reading in November after extensive consultation with the public during its drafting phase and Jackson said the proposed bylaw falls in-line with the priorities set out during that process.
“This is a more appropriate streamlined review and I think it achieves the goals that are well laid out in the OCP,” he said. “This is a practical way to ensure the community’s aspirations are met with respect to the environment outside of what the provincial regulations are.”
Another aspect to the new bylaw establishes criteria whereby certain development permits can be approved by the municipal general manager of resort experience instead of Whistler’s council for activities that will have no major effect on the land in question.
“It will be a quicker process because staff won’t need to make a full report. It’s very time consuming for staff, and if they’re charging a customer it’s going to be expensive. It takes a lot of time because you’ve got write the report, you’ve got to do all the reviews, then it has to get on a council package and get on an agenda where it may be more appropriate for a staff member to go to the general manager,” said Jackson. “If it’s a contentious (development) and it’s part of a major rezoning it’s going to come to council anyway, so this just deals with the day-to-day stuff.”
The general manager of resort experience will be permitted to approve development permits in intensive residential areas, on sites with protected wetland, riparian and aquifer ecosystems and certain community commercial and multi-family development permit areas in the Village and Creekside.
The new development requirements, if approved, will replace the existing guidelines set out in the newly proposed OCP.