Adding 18 people to the Planning staff to handle the development applications in the pipeline: there are 47 of them

By Pepper Parr

October 11th, 2021

BURLINGTON, ON

 

Jeremy Tellier is one of the more entertaining members of the Planning Department in Burlington.  That isn’t to suggest there is no depth to the man – he has his facts down solid and understands the short, intermediate and long term impact of decisions that are being made.   His client relationship skills are second to none.  It is his delivery that makes him special.

Thus it was one day last week that Jeremy was taking Council through an ask to hire more than a dozen new staff members for the planning department.

The budget impact? None basically.

Tellier set the scene when he put up a graphic that set out what the city is heading into.

Jamie Tellier started his Staff report to Council last week with a stunner of a document.

“The technical issues and complexities are beyond anything that we’ve seen before, and that leads to increased time and effort to process those applications” said Tellier.

“I apologize for repeating myself because I know you’ve heard it before, but I’m gonna say it again, greenfield development is effectively over, our growth is going to occur from within, through intensification.”

The delivery of development services, depends on people power; … “the report before you lists the services that are needed to increase our capacity in critical areas, and enable staff to meet the legislative timelines that we have to deal with, as well as deliver on Council’s Land Use objectives and customer experience expectations.

We were already taking into account phasing and timelines of major projects, we really tried to just focus on those projects that we’re likely to obtain building permits in the short term. “What we’re going to do is take a more granular look at the extent of development that is in the planning pipeline, regardless of phasing and timelines. We think this is everything that we’ve got,

“This is a slide that’s gives you the snapshot of all the development activity in the planning pipeline for active major applications for residential development. Site plan applications that have not yet been received, meaning they are in pre-consultation or about to come in for pre- consultation. You can see site plans that are currently in the review process.

All in all we have 47 active applications in the planning pipeline that amount to approximately 19,100 residential units.

Now the table on the bottom we broke up that total units into building typology just to help understand some of the distribution.

We don’t expect 19,100 units to be built in the next couple of years, this, is everything we know of that is in our planning pipeline at various, various stages of planning approvals, we expect to spend the next decade on this working from a true planning and building to occupancy perspective.

This is easily a decade of construction activity in the city.

This slide is a snapshot of the planning pipeline for active major applications for employment development. the point of this slide is to show that more jobs are coming to Burlington.

None of this work has even made its way into building permits yet.

This slide shows building permit activity and construction costs over the past few years.  The number of permits issued is still less than what we’ve seen in previous years.  While we may have less applications coming in than we’ve seen in previous years. They are increasingly large and complex, hence these high construction values that you’re seeing on a chart, and this is a great reflection of the capacity issues that we’re experiencing across all of development services.

The previous slides were just the planning pipeline, none of that has made its way into building permits and none of that is even reflected in these charts because this is just what what is happening right now on the building permit side of things.

Staff anticipate this sustained development activity is going to require the following needed staff positions:

  • Community Planning:
    • (1) Coordinator of Business Services and Committee of Adjustment
    • (1) Coordinator of Urban Design and Special Projects
    • (1) Zoning Reviewer
    • (3) Planner II
    • (2) Senior Planners
  • Engineering Services:
    • (2) Senior Technician (Site Engineering)
  • Transportation Services:
    • (1) Supervisor of Planning (Transportation Planning)
  • Building Permit Services:
    • (2) Policy & Regulatory Services Clerks
    • (1) Policy & Regulatory Services Supervisor
    • (1) Building Permit Technologist
    • (1) Coordinator of Building Permits (reallocated)
    • (2) Senior Building Inspectors (reallocated)

Should Council approve the recommendation of this report, it is expected that all positions will be immediately posted for recruitment with a priority for Engineering Services to resolve urgent capacity issues on the Site Engineering team. It is noted that the Engineering Services Department intends to use consulting services in the interim to address the capacity issues in Site Engineering until the recruitment is complete.

To ensure cost recovery for development services, a planning application fee review is currently underway; we’re targeting completion by the end of this year. The last time we did this type of deep dive into our planning fees, was in 2012.

This was one of the last greenfield developments in the city. There isn’t any more space in the Urban Boundary which is basically at Dundas Street

Burlington has effectively built out to its edges, we now have to grow from within, and development is almost entirely in an infill context and development applications and an infill context are increasingly complex and require more staff effort, which then affects our cost to deliver our services. So full cost recovery for development services is critical for long term fiscal sustainability. In other words, we need to minimize our dependence on the tax base for the operating costs of development services.

Tellier used a couple of case studies to help understand the order of magnitude of revenues and fees that get collected through development services.

“On the Molinaro property, the phase one development, consisted of two 20 storey towers and one 24 storey tower with 559 residential units. When you look at the table on the slide, what’s interesting is this development only required site plan approval.

“And you can see if we were processing the site plan under our current fee schedule like as of today, the fees would would come out to a little over $81,000 Just for the site plan application, and then the three building permits for the three towers – those permits worked out to over a million dollars in building permit revenues. Development Charges worked out to over $11 million, and in development charges Park dedication – over $3 million. And then lastly, the condominium application, a little over $3,000.

“Here’s another example of a Carriage Gate Berkeley Medical One development this project consists of a 17 storey tower with 120 residential units, an eight storey office building, with a little over 10,000 square meters of retail and office area, a six story parking garage with 226 parking spaces. There are some section 37 benefits as a result of the rezoning. This development did require an official plan amendment and Zoning Bylaw Amendment – if we were processing this today, you would see the fees would be over $109,000 in revenues, just for the Official Plan and Zoning Bylaw Amendment. And then you can see for site plan that if we were receiving that application and processing that today it would be a little over $43,000.  What’s interesting here is the only part of this development, the apartment building, has been constructed. The parking garage, and the office building have not yet come in for building permits, and so that’s reflected in the building permit fees of $314,000, which have been collected,

“Same thing with development charges, a little over $2 million, and park dedication that’s $660,000, and the condominium application – a little over $3,000. The Official Plan Amendment and the site plan approval approved the entire development so the developer doesn’t need to come back to planning, if they wish to build what was previously approved on that site.

“In order to handle this flood of development application and stay within the time frames the planners have to work with everything is dependent on improving staff capacity across development services.”

That concluded the Staff presentation; it was on to questions from Council members.

Ward 5 Councillor Paul Sharman

Councillor Sharman was the first out the gate saying “You know, I’ve been trying to figure out how many applications we have in the pipeline, for a few years. We used to have a monthly development activity report by ward that was extremely insightful, we stopped doing that now my assumption was we stopped doing that because we had similar information on the Planning and Development website under development, or applications by ward… can we please get back to having a report?

Sharman added that “we also need the operations review meeting every month. What can we do to get that information, please?

Mark Simione responded: “Yes, we’re absolutely in agreement someone will provide that information. It’s simply a matter of acquiring the data that’s repeatable, verifiable and accurate. There’s no disagreement from staff we completely agree that this is a worthwhile project.

Councillor Bentivegna had a question around the “new staff that we need for the next phase of our growth. I think the numbers when you add them up come to $1,000,007 per year needed  to carry on. And from your case study, numbers, just using the Molinaro project on Fairview we’re looking at $15 million in terms of revenues from that one project.

“Are those dollars we’re receiving as part of the permit fees, will they be distributed to some of those departments or how are we going to deal with those extra expenses. If they’re not included into this, and maybe the city managers are willing to answer that or someone in financing. That’s my first question.

City Manager Tim Commisso spoke: I’ll be real brief.  It’s of significant concern in terms of making sure that all the departments have the capacity so the reality is, that we are limited in terms of what we can collect fees for – I just want to acknowledge that that is on our radar.

Tellier added: “First and foremost is to recover the direct costs for development services, but understanding that there’s so much support from other departments, those indirect supports and development services from the departments I had mentioned in my presentation and I think they’re also identified in the staff report.

Ward 2 Councillor Lisa Kearns

Councillor Kearns asked if: “This readjustment of the organizational design is based on what’s coming down the pipe, in terms of the mega projects for all intents and purposes. What about the smaller projects. The, you know, the trending areas in our city where it’s a knock down and build one home. The permits and so on. We’re doing this to speed up this service to improve the quality of the service all of all of the right things. When will we see the effects of increased or reduced times to get things approved, both for large operations, and for the little person who’s redoing their home, because right now it’s stressful. These are the sort of emails we’re getting at this point where it’s taken quite a long time, so can we comment on that please?

Heather MacDonald explained: “We’re not just looking at the big projects, we are definitely looking at infill projects as well, which are very complicated, often what I find more complicated than in dealing with Greenfield applications, because they are in established areas, and we are, you know, concerned about impact on the surrounding area. And also, sometimes dealing with applicants that are not the big developers are experienced developers so they that requires a lot more time and effort to work through the process.

“We have been through a couple of the pain points in the process for smaller applications, those being forestry and zoning, and in those two areas we’ve seen great improvement in how quickly we can process a couple of other pain points in the process that we need to, to address more fully, one being site engineering and that is definitely in this recommendation before you today for assistance in that area.”

You may recall, explained Tellier “that the first couple milestones was just trying to establish the structure and some stability in our department, we had a lot of staff that we had contracts upon contracts; it was a structure that didn’t quite align with the type of established work that occurs in established neighborhoods.

“We’ve reorganized the department into teams. We’ve re-arranged our structure and created stability. Now we’re at that third milestone of improving our capacity.

“That’s where we’re gonna start seeing the difference across all of development services exactly as Heather mentioned, when we think about forestry and site engineering and zoning and all the work to date that they do. In addition to that as we start thinking about the ability for us to work with our IT department so we can start improving our technology and our customer portals to empower customers, we’ll find some efficiencies there to help our customers succeed beyond what we can do right now.

“This is self financed within the system.”

Councillor Kearns had a final question: ” I just want to understand how we are working in two parallel tracks between designing and evolving the organization and then working within the actual budget process that does allocate FTP, some of which are revenue supported from tax and some of which are supported through the tax base.

“I’m just looking for that differentiation because what I’m not quite seeing now, and I’ll ask staff this separately is there an additional service level that’s being met, or is this to satisfy baseline so first? Why, designing and evolving the organization and not budget, and second baseline versus enhanced service.

Treasurer Joan Ford responded: “It’s all one. For purposes of this report there was a sense of urgency to try to get this in place. You are responsible for approving staff complement. So the HR positions, the complement falls with you. You can do it either at budget time or you can do it at any time .

“As has been indicated these  positions are fee funded. And so, what we would do is we would include the HR costs in the budget, and we would increase the revenues to support those staff that have been approved. Once you approve this report.

“With anything there is risk. And one of the risks, is that the revenues may not be there in a given year to support the staff. We do have a reserve fund for both development application processing and building permit fees. As long as the revenues are there to sustain it. There shouldn’t need to be a huge draw from the reserve funds, but it is there, should we need it.”

Asked to move the report Councillor Kearns had one more question. “… back to planning staff and does this simply support baseline operations to meet all of the Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) that are in place, or is this providing an elevated level of service?

The answer was: “This will assist us in meeting legislated timelines that we are required to meet, and also to better meet customer expectations. This will also position us to be able to handle the increased activity that we expect. So it’s both. Really, we need the assistance and the increased capacity right now.”

Kearns again: “I do have a third question. I’m just wondering if it’s possible to put together a bit of a media release or a news release. I can say that my office has been inundated with requests around permit processing times, things of that nature and I’d like to have something available to respond to our community members that have reached out, letting them know that we’ve made this really insightful analysis and carried through with the request of staff to increase a compliment from, you know, what should be a revenue neutral perspective, and if not, we do have a backup plan through those reserves. Just wondering if it’s possible to have a bit of a communication put together for internal and external use.”

City Manager Commisso assured Kearns that they will work with communications and get something out – following Council.

Mayor Meed Ward closed adding: “Let’s get on with processing the applications, everyone wants to be in Burlington and why not, it’s the best city in the country, in the world, and you have a lot of work ahead of you, so we obviously need to help resource you to do that well and happy to do that.

“I’d say this is really critical to everybody. Like everybody on council we’ve all been getting emails and phone calls and, you know anxiety over timelines that have extended for sometimes many many many months. This is really important. Any comments I’d leave with you were similar to the ones I left at the budget meetings the last two weeks. That is with respect to new software, and improving processes, and recognizing the new software by definition requires us to redesign our processes. And the question is how quickly can we get into all that? My last comment is remember the Customer.

Councillor Galbraith ward 1

Councillor Galbraith: “I’ll be quick. This is great. Anytime that we have revenue funded positions, I want to see it as soon as possible. I didn’t mention this, going back last year that if there’s a streamlined process for this, to bring it through us faster even, you know, skip some of the typical reporting cycles. I’m in for that, In principle, so perhaps that’s something that Sheila might be able to think about if that would be feasible or the planning team. And the other thing that I see from this report is how we are certainly open for business in Burlington construction value forecasted is going back up to new heights, and I’m good with that – it’s going to help the city. Overall, obviously we are shaping that growth as a council. So, thank you very much for the report very well prepared and looking forward to having the positions.”

 

Ward 3 Councillor Rory Nisan

Councillor Nisan added: “I just have a couple of comments as well. I’m very happy to see this report and obviously funded positions are much easier decision for council to to make, I know my office has certainly been inundated. There is a lot of construction activity at the moment, and projects that are in the engineering department and all departments within the city and I would like to receive less calls if I can, so happy to see that there will be more positions.  I don’t think the construction activity is going to be less than any in the future. I think this is the right decision and the fact that it doesn’t require budget decisions is, a fairly easy one for me to make.

Counselor Kearns then commented: “Just a quick one and I just want to highlight that what we’re doing here is also improving safety within our community. The building department is responsible for all of those inspections to make sure that the Building Code inspections are carried out to the highest regard.  I really look forward to getting this compliment up to full whack because we don’t want to miss those timelines and we want to make sure that we give that very very high level customer service.”

And that was it – no more questions; no more comments.  The Chair called the vote – it carried and goes to Council on the 19th where it will be approved.

 

Return to the Front page
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

4 comments to Adding 18 people to the Planning staff to handle the development applications in the pipeline: there are 47 of them

  • Adam

    I agree with counsellor Sharman’s questions. In the private sector if you asked to hire 18 people, someone would surely ask “What is the efficiency is of the existing staff?” “How are they measured?” What is the expectation of how many applications can be dealt with by the current team? ..and the newly expanded team? It seems like many of these applications have been in the pipeline for a long time, how come they haven’t already been dealt with? Also what are the implications of the counsel and staff objecting to all these applications? Surely it costs a lot more money, and from what I have seen the city isn’t winning any of the appeals. Is this money well spent?

  • Mike Ettlewood

    Just two and probably misinformed observations – apologies but I’m having difficulty following the pea. First, there seem to be 17 new positions needed just to deal with the development applications that are known and “in the pipeline”. Is there actually multi-year funding for these critical positions? Are they fully funded from the development application fees year-over-year? Secondly, and this is more of a comment almost 70% of the new, known applications are for “tall buildings”; 88% are for tall and medium height buildings. Is this what we voted for in 2014? Is this what we expected would happen when Council introduced the new and improved Official (and yet to be approved) Plan? What in the world have we been sold?

  • Joe Gaetan

    Great presentation from Jamie Tellier, and this, “As has been indicated these positions are fee funded. And so, what we would do is we would include the HR costs in the budget, and we would increase the revenues to support those staff that have been approved. Once you approve this report. “With anything there is risk. And one of the risks, is that the revenues may not be there in a given year to support the staff. We do have a reserve fund for both development application processing and building permit fees. As long as the revenues are there to sustain it. There shouldn’t need to be a huge draw from the reserve funds, but it is there, should we need it.”
    Other than that, a lot of word salad questions.

  • Steve

    Don’t you just LOVE the Orwellian term “intensification” instead of the reality word….overcrowding.

Leave a Reply