Kelowna looks at changes to its development variance approval process

Variance approval change

The City of Kelowna is looking at ways of streamlining its development approval process in keeping with directives from the province.

One way it hopes to save both staff and council time is by giving city planners the ability to approve "minor" development variance applications.

As it sits now, all variances, big or small, go before city council.

Planning director Ryan Smith cited an example of a swimming pool apron which is 19 centimetres too close to the property line.

He says staff will have to prepare a report even though there are no neighbours and no one to object.

"When staff looked at this, we were looking at ways to spend more staff time working on higher value development applications," Smith told council Monday.

"What we are looking to do is find marginal gains all over our development process to allow staff to devote more time to high value applications, like applications for housing approvals."

Smith says there would be a public notification process to inform neighbours of a potential variance but says staff are still working out how that process will look.

Presently he says staff receive very few pieces of correspondence, "maybe one or two.

Occasionally if the development variance permit raises the ire of a larger neighbourhood, we may get half a dozen."

Coun. Luke Stack called the move a step in the right direction, comparing it to a decision years ago when council allowed gave staff the ability to approve secondary suites without coming to council.

"I can't think of one time when somebody has come back wanting to review something staff did,' said Stack.

"It freed up council and I think it's a better service to the public."

Coun. Gord Lovegrove was also on board.

"I support the idea of streamlining," said Lovegrove.

"But, maintaining the public trust is important. The key is a careful sense of the definition of minor."

"I echo comments about streamlining variance permits and engaging with the pubic and keeping them informed," added Coun Ron Cannan.

While also supportive of the measure, Coun. Rick Webber was somewhat surprised at the unanimous support around the council table.

"I'm a little bit surprised to hear the support from some councillors that, if they see one letter coming in against a project, they want to go to a public hearing," said Webber, presumably referring to councillors Lovegrove and Cannan.

"In these cases, we wouldn't see some of the letters I'm guessing. I'm all for it but just surprised to hear some people are for it"

For accountability, Smith did suggest staff would report back to council on a yearly basis to them on the process to ensure everything was progressing as proposed.

However, Mayor Tom Dyas suggested the first report come back sooner that 12 months.

"I want them to come back after six months so that we can have a report on what they approved," said Dyas.

"If there are items that council feels they should not have approved or should have brought back to us, then we can catch it at six months."

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