The municipality is looking to increase its building and development fees in an effort to better recover the costs associated with the applications.
Manager of planning and development Daniel Martin outlined the proposed changes during council’s Monday meeting. He says many of Bowen’s existing application fees have not kept pace with the amount of work it takes to process them, including some which haven’t been updated since they were first written in 2002.
One area suggested for change is the basic building permit application fee itself. Currently a straight $75 for everybody, the new system would base it off construction value on a tiered scale. The lowest amount would be $100 for work up to $10,000, rising to 25 per cent of the building permit fee for projects more than $1.5 million.
Martin says these costs reflect the increased level of staff work required by larger builds, and also to discourage some of the behaviour the planning department has recently seen.
“We had several cases this year where an application was made, staff reviewed it, and staff had several conversations with the applicant. In one case in particular the applicant was very insistent on the need for their development permit, and staff spent a lot of time doing it. When the permit started to be issued and the fee was relayed to the applicant, they never paid their preliminary fee and they walked away,” explained Martin.
“So we would like to set up a fee where we’re recovering more of the cost of reviewing the application initially,” he said.
As for the building permit fees themselves – which haven’t been touched in 20 years – another system of tiered increase would be enacted. The fees themselves would actually stay the same, but would activate at different thresholds to reflect the rise in construction values over time.
Right now the fee is $75 for the first $1,000 worth of construction value, $9 for each additional $1,000 up to $100,000, and $8 per $1,000 over $100,000. The proposed changes would keep the first $1,000 level, and swap both $100,000 benchmarks to $150,000. Martin says this amount was chosen based on inflation numbers over the past two decades.
Finally on the building bylaw front, an alteration to the interim occupancy permit is being suggested. Right now this application – used when a house is liveable but one thing such as a deck may still need finishing – is $200 with the option to renew after two months. Renewals would become $300 with the changes, “As a way to encourage people that you shouldn’t be staying on your interim occupancy, you should be working toward occupancy permits,” says Martin.
“We find that when people move into their house, the motivation and the drive (to finish work) wear off,” he adds, noting around half of people who apply for an interim occupancy permit end up renewing.
Certain development fees would also see some increases, and in the case of contiguous parcels would be created altogether. The development permit fee for these bordering applications stands at $350 for the entire application no matter how many lots it includes. Under the new model 50 per cent of this original fee would be charged for each additional piece of land. (Ie. three lots would trigger two additional contiguous parcel charges at 50 per cent each.)
A special area of emphasis for Martin involved the surcharge for development applications made once work has already started on a property. Whether on purpose or because the owner didn’t know the rules, it’s an issue the department wants to see curbed.
“To regulate that behaviour, and to recognize it does take more work to follow up and do it after the fact – it’s a more involved application,” said Martin.
The new rule would be a 50 per cent surcharge on land use permit applications (development permit/development variance permit) submitted after any work has been undertaken.
Coun. Sue Ellen Fast agreed this is a problem needing addressing. “I’ve seen a number of people who go ahead and start things and then seek permission later. And sometimes they’re quite complicated things involving blasting and stuff that you can’t put back. I would encourage them to actually come and talk to the planning staff and see what the rules are before that kind of thing happens,” she said.
Finally, a $900 fee was proposed for any applications for licence referrals to the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch. No charge currently exists for this process.
Council expressed their support for the proposed changes. “I don’t think the ordinary taxpayer should be subsidizing the cost of development that individual landowners undertake. So I like the idea of it (proposed changes) recovering the costs,” said Fast.
The members voted unanimously to have staff draft bylaw amendments to make the changes official.