Mayor Maja Tait pulled no punches when she met with about 30 Sooke builders on Wednesday morning.
“It (the building permit process) is long … it takes forever. We get that,” said Tait at the start of the meeting.
“The whole process is a mess.”
She said she had an appreciation of the failure of municipal staff in providing a reasonable turnaround for building permit applications with delays that regularly stretch to the three or even four-month mark. It’s a time frame that far exceeds that of any of the West Shore communities.
She promised that all that will change and within six weeks the system will be altered so that the turn-around for building permit applications will be reduced to seven to 10 working days.
It was a sentiment and a commitment echoed by Coun. Al Beddows was also in attendance and joined Tait in taking a leading role in the discussions.
“The system is not working but we’re working on it. I know it seems slower than hell, but we’re going to get there. We just need to get on with it,” said Beddows.
The problem, Tait said, did not develop overnight but has evolved over the years as needed priorities were not set and much-needed resources were not allotted to the permitting function.
“This has been a sort of perfect storm,” said Tait
“The service has been under-resourced and there were moves made, like moving the supervision of the building inspectors under the fire chief, that never made sense.”
She noted the district had a senior building official that retired and was never replaced, leaving the municipality with one building inspector and one planning inspector. In comparison, she said, the municipality of Langford, which is often held up as a model of efficiency in the issuance of permits, has a team of eight inspectors and another 10 working in planning inspections.
She also noted that the proposed budget for the municipality has demonstrated the commitment to improving Sooke’s system by including several new staff positions for the service.
Local builder, Herb Haldane, who was instrumental in organizing the meeting and who has been a vocal critic of the building permit process, was at the meeting and acknowledged the under-resourcing of the service as one problem.
But he added that there are other problems that have led to delays.
He said that he noticed a difference when Sooke adopted the Tempest Land Records Database.
“The boxes you checked off (in Tempest) were to avoid having to send it from department to department but here they still send it everywhere anyway,” said Haldane.
“And I get that they’re short staffed and we feel for you, but we all have people sitting at home waiting to get to work. “
Interim chief administrative officer Don Schaffer admitted that there were serious problems to be addressed but said that fixing the problems has become a priority.
“When I got here I was told to first stabilize the administration and keep the ship off the rocks. The second thing was to fix the building permit process,” said Schaffer.
“The process now has a whole lot of roadblocks, and I’m trying to knock those back.”
Schaffer’s promised timeline and the responses of Beddows and Tait combined to placate the concerns of most of the builders.
“It’s absolutely fabulous. Obviously, the council wants to move forward,” said Mark Forget of Forget Construction.
“It was well worth coming here today.”
Tait was pleased with the meeting as well and observed that the administration had been doing some work on the problem but had failed to communicate to the builders what was happening.
“They have to improve that and they (the builders) need to realize that we have some great staff who have been frustrated as well and wanted the system fixed. Staff take a lot of pride in their work and they want the system to work as well.”