Planning staff’s time

Proposal could see certain development fees increase by 299%

Nov 18, 2016

City councillors moved to increase the cost of development fees for applicants, at Planning and Growth Management Committee on Wednesday. “The decision before you today is to move the cost of development review currently from tax base, to a complete user fee,” Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat said in her presentation to the committee.

The average annual cost of development reviews is $50 million a year, with the average revenue at $36 million, leaving a $14 million shortfall (and $2 million of that unrecoverable). Within the new cost recovery plan that Keesmaat presented, there is greater allocation of fees to legal and engineering departments.

According to a supplementary report, the new structure is not meant to increase the number of employees. “The additional revenue is intended to recover the cost to provide the current development application review service. As such, it will have no direct impact on staffing levels.” However, a motion from Chair David Shiner seemed to circumvent that intention (keeping the current level for Committee of Adjustment fees rather than lowering them as initially recommended).

“That’s $2 million that’s going to go for 15 staff people across the C of A’s if we keep them the same,” Shiner said in response to a question from Councillor John Filion about whether the fees would be enough to solve the issue of staff availability. “Just to be clear, are you saying if we keep the fees the same we’ll hire 15 C of A staff?” Filion asked. “I’m not going to bring the chief planner to floor, unless I’m wrong, but if I’m right it will be 15 staff across the C of A additional,” Shiner said. Chief Keesmaat, sitting next to Shiner, could be heard off mic confirming “additional, new staff.”

The increases to application fees vary in the recommendations, with the lowest fee being for a condominium amendment, which would decrease from the current fee of $8,238 to $3,871 (a decrease of 53%), and the highest for site-plan residential base fee amendments, which would increase from $5,114 to $20,408 (an increase of 299%).

The chief planner said the industry is on board with the increases. Planning lawyer Adam Brown advocated for the need for staff to have enough time to try to resolve disputes, using his own experience. “I’ll call [City staff] begging to meet so we can resolve it. And I’ll call many of the councillors begging to meet to try and resolve it, to not go to a hearing,” Brown said, conceding “[those] that appeal after 180 days are getting there more quickly, and that’s not the message you want to send to the industry.”

The result was considered a win for City employees. Councillor Janet Davis said, “What the planning committee did today was finally take a very clear position that we need to add staff to the planning division to keep up with the growth in development and the incredible burden of workload on our staff.”

Tim Maguire, president of CUPE Local 79 union, presented the results of a survey that found some members feel overworked, understaffed, and stressed out. Adding to that sentiment, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam expressed concern over staff’s capacity to present a certain quality of work given the time constraints. “I’ve seen planning staff get very fatigued… I’m very concerned about the quality of work, because I see that they’re struggling to deliver the very best planning decisions and rationale for us.”

The items first appeared at October’s Executive Committee, but was referred to this week’s meeting. City council will consider the item at its Dec.13/14th meeting.