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Woolwich looks to streamline planning process for developers

Developers can expect to see speedier turnarounds and lower costs in rolling out new subdivisions, for instance, as Woolwich planners look to eliminate duplication with their regional counterparts.

The goal is to get provincial clearance for the Region of Waterloo to delegate authority for three planning issues – plans of subdivision, plans of condominium and part lot control exemptions – to the township.

That would save time and money, while reducing red tape, says Dan Kennaley, Woolwich’s director of engineering and planning services, whose report on the changes was approved last week by township council.

As well, it puts control in the hands of those most directly and appropriately responsible for planning in the municipality, he added.

“It will allow local planning matters to be handled locally,” said Kennaley.

The township is also looking at options for taking over responsibility for approving amendments to its own official plan.

Currently, the township has approval authority for zoning bylaw amendments, consents/severances and minor variances (through its committee of adjustment) and site plans. In addition, township staff already does a substantial amount of the work associated with the evaluation and potential approval of applications for local official plan amendments, plans of subdivision, plans of condominium and part lot control exemptions within the township, he noted.

Dan Kennaley, Woolwich’s director of engineering and planning, sees the delegation of planning authority from the region as a way to make the process more accountable to the community. [Steve Kannon / The Observer]
The proposed changes will put still more control in local hands.

The township already does much of the work, including circulating information to commenting bodies such as the Grand River Conservation Authority, and holding public meetings. As such, downloading responsibility is unlikely to take more staff time or have any impact on the budget, Kennaley suggested.

“Since Woolwich staff are already doing a substantial amount of the work associated with the processing of official plan amendments, plans of subdivision, plans of condominium and part lot control exemptions, if delegation of approval authority occurs, current staff resource levels will be sufficient to continue to deal with this latter group of planning applications and there shouldn’t be any immediate major financial implications either,” he says in his report.

Woolwich planning staff tries to put together a complete package for the region to review in hopes of both speeding up the process and avoiding a backlog at the upper tier municipality.

“What has been frustrating in the past … we find that the region goes through a similar process as we’ve just gone through. So this should help eliminate that duplication,” said Kennaley.

“I think it’s going to help streamline the process.”

If the changes do go ahead, the region will remain a commenting agency, continuing to play a big role in how reviews are done, he added.

While every plan submitted by developers has its own idiosyncrasy, he estimates the new process could see an average application dealt with 20 per cent sooner.

And while there are no immediate fee reductions in the offing, the sped-up timeline and removed overlaps should pay off for developers, he suggested.

“It boils down to the time-is-money proposition.”

Beyond those submitting plans to the township, there are advantages to the wider community, he added.

“The developers are the first beneficiaries. But as they’re involved in meeting our housing needs, the whole community can benefit from the process.”

Delegation will also move the processing of applications closer to the community where there is greater access to the planning process and where local community concerns can be better addressed, said Kennaley of the benefits.

“It brings the planning process closer to the public, makes it more accountable.  As the report notes, local community concerns can be better addressed by local councillors who are more responsive and accountable to local community concerns.”

Kennaley says he hopes to see the changes in place by year’s end, but there’s no timeline for approvals at this point, with work to be done by both the region and the province. The region can move on three of the changes, though the fourth – delegation of local official plan amendments – will require more work with the province and the region, which will likely slow down the process.

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