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Surrey guarantees rezoning, building permit timelines

Fast-growing city first in Metro to guarantee turnarounds for permit applications, including commercial rezoning
Surrey BuildingHouse_0
Residential and commercial building permit timelines now guaranteed in Surrey. | City of Surrey

The City of Surrey is believed to be the first municipality in Metro Vancouver to begin providing guaranteed timelines for building permits, including rezoning applications.

Announced in October, the city, second-largest in B.C. by population, said the maximum time for a rezoning application for commercial development, including multi-family projects, will be 16 weeks.

This compares to months, even years in some municipalities, developers claim.

“The guaranteed permitting timeline addresses a significant issue that builders have, which is when will they know if the permit has been approved or not,” said Mayor Doug McCallum. “Surrey has proven to be a prime destination for new residents and businesses. That’s why council has taken this significant step to improve the speed and predictability in the land development approval process. The guaranteed timeline will result in less idle time for builders and more accurate completion dates for people looking to move into their new home or business space.”

Charan Sethi, president of Tien Sher, a major multi-family and commercial developer in Surrey, welcomed the new policy.

“They are the only [Metro Vancouver] municipality I know of which offers such a guarantee,” he said.

Sethi noted that in another Metro municipality, which he declined to name, he has been waiting six years for a rezoning decision for a multi-family project.

Langford, in Greater Victoria, has a similar program, with relative quick development guidelines, though they are not guaranteed. It claims processing times of 48 hours for a building permit for a single-family house, and “four- to six-month turnaround time for development permits.”

In Vancouver, it has taken up to seven years to usher rezoning through the city’s process, according to the Urban Development Institute, though the city has taken recent steps to speed the process, according to Mayor Kennedy Stewart.

Stewart acknowledged the “mountains of red tape,” and noted the work of a permitting task force in a November 23 statement.

The results so far, he said, have seen tree bylaw applications processed two weeks faster, demolition permits three weeks faster, detached home and duplex approvals 12 weeks faster and change of use and occupancy permits 12 weeks faster.

He did not provide estimates of current timeless for such applications and the City of Vancouver had not responded to a request for such information as of press time.

More than 36,000 housing units have been approved and built in Surrey over the last decade and the demand remains high, according to a city statement. Even during pandemic in 2020, Surrey recorded a building permit value of $1.46 billion, beating the 10-year annual average, it said.

From January 2019 to December 2020, single family homes accounted for 31 per cent of new construction, 21 per cent were townhomes, 31 per cent were for high rise apartments and 17 per cent for low to mid rise apartments.

According to the City of Surrey, staff are implementing the following guaranteed permitting timelines:

Rezoning report to council for a multi-family, commercial or industrial project: 16 weeks.

Rezoning report to council for a single-family house: 12 weeks

Building permit for a single-family house: 10 weeks

Building permit for tenant improvement: 10 weeks.