Victoria will host a facilitated workshop to try to strengthen working relationships among the city, developers and local neighbourhoods.
Mayor Dean Fortin had proposed hosting the “development summit” with members of the development community and the city.
But councillors agreed this week to have staff develop a plan for the workshop only if land-use committee chairs of neighbourhood associations were also included.
Community representation at the workshop is critical, said Coun. Shellie Gudgeon, who added she has heard anecdotal reports that some neighbourhood association opinions are summarily discounted by city staff.
“There is so much misunderstanding about what takes place between the city and the developer. We’re getting to the point in the neighbourhood associations where certain neighbourhood associations are, quite frankly, dismissed by staff,” Gudgeon said.
“We have to look at how we engage our neighbours and how we engage their expertise. We have a wealth of knowledge, so I think this is a critical point to involve them in the process,” she said.
Asked by Fortin, city manager Jason Johnson said that as far as he knew, staff do their best to address neighbourhood concerns as they arise. He said he would be happy to investigate any specific problems.
Coun. Lisa Helps, who proposed including the land-use chairs, said there could be elements of the summit that are of no interest to them.
“But it really does [help] to build understanding about what’s happening in-between their initial CALUC [Community Association Land Use Committee] meeting and when the bubble plans come back,” Helps said. “I think that opportunity for education is critical.”
In an interview, Fortin said the city has made great strides in improving services, but some in the development community continue to voice concerns regarding various issues, including the city's handling of development applications and the interpretation of development regulations.
One improvement Fortin cited as an example is that companies that want to do work classified as tenant improvements are now seeing a three- to four-day turnaround on applications.
But, the mayor added, members of the development community have said there are city processes they still find frustrating.
“So we’re looking for an opportunity to come in and have a development summit that allows us to take a look at the customer service we provide to see if we can do it better.”
Fortin noted that Victoria is undergoing a period of strong growth — issuing $300 million in building permits last year — and that developers have come to understand the importance of engaging the community.
The summit will look at some of the nuts and bolts of the regulatory process, including issuance of building permits and inspections — processes that can delay projects.