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Victoria mulls giving staff authority to approve building

Jul 04 2012

Some call it streamlining. Others think councillors are abrogating their responsibilities.

Victoria council has taken the first step toward delegating to staff approval authority over certain development permit applications and heritage variance applications.

"No slight on our staff, but I think what's being proposed here is the most radical alteration of landuse procedures since I've lived in this community, which is the last two decades," said Coun. Ben Isitt during a recent council discussion.

Councillors have directed further study of the idea, and staff are to report back on possible exclusions. Council approval still could be required for applications in certain areas of the city or for projects of a certain size, height or density. Staff are also to report on a method of evaluation and estimated impacts on staff and processing timelines.

"I believe land-use changes should be decided by people who are politically accountable to the community," said Isitt, adding that no one on council proposed any such changes when campaigning in November.

Coun. Pam Madoff said while efficiency is important, it's important to link an efficient process with a desirable outcome.

She said she was not interested in "analyzing unfortunate outcomes after they've been built. - We don't get a second chance with things like that."

Development permit areas and heritage alteration permits are two of the most sensitive areas that city councillors deal with, she said.

"They are the ones that I believe that our public think we should take the most care over and the most consideration," Madoff said. "You could characterize this as delegating authority. Some folks actually see it as council abrogating its responsibility."

But the majority of councillors favoured some sort of delegation.

Coun. Lisa Helps said she supported delegation but also supported giving council an opportunity to decide certain applications.

"The important piece for me is that on a large-scale project and in certain parts of the city that are really, really important to all of us, there will be opportunity for council and the public to weigh in.," she said.

As it stands, Helps said, she was "floored" when an application for a change to a heritage door had to come to a committee and then council for approval.

"I really don't think it's council's purview and I think we have expert staff to decide, for example, on things like front doors," Helps said.

TERMS DEFINED

Development permit area An area requiring council approval before a building permit can be issued. Generally, such areas are designated to safeguard special characteristics, such as heritage buildings and unique appearance or character.

Heritage conservation area City-designated areas for which greater control is required to maintain the highest possible quality of design in keeping with an area's special potential. Heritage conservation areas are recognized for their unique heritage value and features.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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