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Surrey slates duel over building permitting times

Election campaign heats up as United Surrey, Safe Surrey Coalition promise quicker turnarounds
Building permitting times have become a battleground in Surrey’s civic election. (File photo)

Sukh Dhaliwal and his United Surrey slate is promising, if elected, to perform what a rival candidate says would amount to a miracle: Turning around applications for building renovation permits in three days.

Dhaliwal presented his slate’s 333 Approval Plan this week, promising a three-day turnaround for building renovation permit applications, three weeks for single-family homes and three months for multi-family units.

“My 333 Approval Plan guarantees the same turnaround for everyone,” Dhaliwal’s campaign literature reads. “Unlike the current administration, you don’t need to be a friend of the Mayor to get your application reviewed in a timely way.”

Coun. Mandeep Nagra, who is seeking re-election with the Safe Surrey Coalition, is chairman of the City of Surrey’s development advisory committee and regularly spoke to reducing permitting times at the council table.

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“Not at all, absolutely not, it’s not possible at all,” Nagra told the Now-Leader on Tuesday when asked if a three-day turnaround can be done. “They involve inspectors, they involve the building department, they involve the engineering department. So just the front counter takes about three days to process, or three or more days to process the application and then it goes to all these different departments and then it goes to inspections, so absolutely not, it’s not possible to issue the permits in three days.”

Nagra said there is a shortage of inspectors in Surrey. “Three days is not something anybody can achieve.”

How about three weeks for a single-family home?

“No, we are at 10 weeks, we promised 10 weeks guaranteed time lines as you know, we approved a policy in council as well and we’re trying to implement those policies, issues in the family permits in 10 weeks. We promised that based on staff suggestions. Staff has suggested to us that 10 weeks is something that’s achievable, something that’s doable, and that’s what we promised. The three weeks, I don’t think staff is ready for that.”

For city staff to issue permits in three weeks, Nagra said, “I think you might have to turn the whole department upside down.”

Ten weeks guaranteed timelines, he said, “that is going very, very aggressive and people are really happy with 10 weeks. How they are planning to release permits in three weeks, that’s the question. I don’t think staff has an answer to that.”

Ten weeks, Nagra said, “is what staff is working on and that’s what staff believes that’s an aggressive timeline and something that can be achieved.”

Dhaliwal was flummoxed by this, considering a SSC press release issued Tuesday claims the SSC, if re-elected, would create an online system to enable residents “to choose a stock template” of a house plan and, once the request is submitted, the applicant “will receive a permit in two weeks.”

“Look at Mayor McCallum, he’s saying he can get it done in two weeks now. Their right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing,” Dhaliwal huffed, contrasting this SCC claim with Nagra’s same-day claim that it can’t be done.

“Doug McCallum is just saying whatever he needs to say,” Dhaliwal said. “He just right now is desperate.”

A three-month turnaround for multi-family units, Nagra added, is also “not at all” doable. “We implemented those guaranteed timelines and that’s what we’re working on but during an election, to promise something that cannot be done, I think it’s ethically not right.”

But Dhaliwal insists his 333 Approval Plan has not simply been pulled out of a hat. The engineer and land-surveyor by trade said “this has not just come out of Sukh Dhaliwal. We had a professional team of architects, CP, engineers, they came forward and we sat together, and I talked to other municipalities as well.

“People are waiting for years, months, and they’re not getting anywhere. This plan is workable,” Dhaliwal said. “We have talked to the professionals and they say it is doable and we stand by it that we will do it.

“I totally understand the issues and I totally understand this process and not only me, in fact all the professionals that have come together to advise us that this is what is achievable.”

This week Surrey’s civic slates have been issuing press releases heralding large election promises.

The Safe Surrey Coalition, led by mayoral candidate Doug McCallum, revealed on Tuesday “A Home For Everyone Plan” aimed at fast-tracking home ownership by increasing the city’s housing supply and creating affordability through cutting red tape.

“Doug’s plan is to fast-track housing permit approvals by creating an online system that allows residents to choose a stock template of a house plan. Once they have submitted their request, they will receive a permit in two weeks — cutting down on the red tape and expediting the process,” the SSC press release says.

Meantime, Surrey First also issued a press release Tuesday saying its mayoral candidate Gordie Hogg wants to see more neighbourhood pools, rinks, sports fields and community centres as part of a 10-year plan involving “free access for 130,000 Surrey kids and 90,000 seniors.”

The Surrey First press release also takes a poke at McCallum’s election promise to build a 60,000-seat stadium.

“The cost of building Doug McCallum’s fantasy stadium is equal to building at least 15 new rinks, pools, fields or community centres,” Hogg stated in the release. “Instead of a billion-dollar white elephant that taxpayers will have to subsidize every single year, I want to lay out a well-organized 10-year plan for new neighbourhood pools, rinks, fields, community and cultural facilities.

“I really believe that if we’re going to make investments in facilities they should be in our neighbourhoods, not a 60,000-seat mega-stadium with no business plan. Neighbourhood pools, rinks, fields, and community centres will be our priority. We have about 130,000 children and teens in our city, and about 90,000 seniors, and providing free admission benefits our community.”

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About the Author: Tom Zytaruk

I write unvarnished opinion columns and unbiased news reports for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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