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Developing Story: Moving and modernizing

City planning department moves house, streamlines the way it works
brian jackson
Brian Jackson, the city’s manager of planning and development, in his new office at 515 West 10th. Photo Dan Toulgoet

The city’s planning and development department not only moved to a new location and reorganized in the latter half of 2014, but is in the midst of a $25-million “business transformation” project designed to modernize its systems.

Brian Jackson, the city’s manager of planning and development, sat down with the Courier last week to outline some of the changes his department has undergone in recent months, and to highlight what’s on the department’s agenda for 2015 — the subject of next week’s Developing Story.

The meeting location in Jackson’s new office in the VanCity building at the corner of Cambie and West 10th represents a key change and signals others that are in store in coming months and years.

Planning and development staff used to be located in the east wing of city hall, but that structurally unsafe building is being torn down. This year, Jackson said the facilities department will be working on a plan for the entire city hall campus, situated between Cambie and Yukon and West 12th and Broadway, which will include the costs associated with seismically upgrading the main city hall heritage building.

Jackson’s staff made the move to their new office building at 515 West 10th between May and August of last year, a move that included revamping the way applications are handled to create a more efficient process.

In the old office, there were different information counters in different locations for various types of applications. In the new office, those counters have been brought together and consolidated on the main floor of the building. “Concierge” staff determine what stream people should be in.

Along with the physical move and various physical organizational changes, the department is also modernizing the way it functions through a $25-million permits and licenses project that started a year and a half ago. It’s designed to simplify application processes with the ultimate goal of creating an online service for all applications.

“It’s the largest business transformation project in the city, where a year from now 80 per cent of the people who come here won’t have to come here anymore. They can get their permits online. They can track their application online and get their approvals online. So we’re moving to an entirely paperless system,” Jackson said.

“We’ve gone online for our trades permits, plumbing and electrical. They’re about 50 per cent online now and then we’ll be doing development permits, building permits and all the larger applications later on this year.”

Among the reasons for reorganizing the department and modernizing its systems is due to the sheer number of applications it handles.

“The total number of development applications is higher than ever and the complexity of our applications is increasing…. There are a whole bunch of [considerations] adding to the complexity, so we have to work smarter, we have to provide better service to our applicants and we have to provide clearer and more consistent answers to the public. We can only do that with the kind of consolidation and physical set-up that we have now.”

According to a press release Wednesday, the city issued building permits worth $2.83 billion in 2014 — a record for building permit values.

Developments that accounted for that increase included the Teck Acute Care Centre at B.C. Children’s Hospital with a construction value of $287 million; Westbank’s Kensington Garden at Kingsway and Nanaimo with a construction value of $65 million; the 44-storey Charleson tower by Onni with a construction value of $46 million; the new student services and science building at Langara College with a construction value of $46 million; and a new 195-unit rental building by Bosa BlueSky Properties on Main at East Georgia with a construction value of $27 million.

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