New site plan process reduces red tape

Posted on Monday March 24, 2014
Site Plan Process

New changes to the City of Orillia site plan application policy will allow a more time and cost efficient review process. The changes, recommended through a comprehensive review process, came as a direct result of public feedback.

“The call for a better process on development applications was made through several projects including the Affordable Housing Action Plan, the Business Retention and Expansion initiative, and more recently the 2013 Economic Development Symposium,” said Dan Landry, the City’s Manager of Economic Development. “We were hearing from business owners that the site plan application could be improved, so in 2013 staff began a comprehensive review process to find efficiencies.”

Staff, including members of the Economic Development Office and Development Services Department, began by compiling stakeholder feedback. Early in the process it became clear that a main focus for improvement was communications around the site plan application process. Many people commented that with an average processing time of three to six months, the process took too long. However, based on a benchmarking study of 31 Ontario municipalities done by the Ontario Association of Architects, staff learned that more than one-third of Ontario municipalities take longer than nine months to approve a site plan application, so Orillia was actually ahead of the pack.

“The benchmarking showed us that compared to other Ontario municipalities, we were already processing applications at an above average pace,” said Jeff Duggan, Senior Planner for the City of Orillia. “What it also showed us is that we could to do a better job of explaining the process and working with applicants on achievable timelines so that everyone involved had the same expectations.”

Other challenges around communication included unclear timelines, lack of understanding around the site plan process, confusion around submission requirements and miscommunication around where delays were occurring. To tackle these challenges staff recommended a mandatory pre-consultation meeting and developed two key documents: a site plan application guide and a pre-consultation package. The pre-consultation meeting provides an opportunity for a planner to sit down with an applicant to discuss the proposal.

“This is a critical step which allows us to point out any red flags that might affect the time or cost of the development,” said Duggan. “While some may point out that this is adding a step, we are confident that this will save time and money for the applicant in the long run. Revisions are by-far the most costly and time-consuming element of the site plan application process, so if we can reduce these with a thorough pre-consultation meeting everyone wins.”

In turn, the internal review process will also be streamlined so that instead of all departments commenting on each round of revisions, only those who requested changes will be re-circulated on the revised documents, which will cut down review time considerably.

The new Guide to Site Plan Control provides an overview of the site plan application review in a non-technical language so that you don’t need to be an experienced developer to understand the process.

The pre-consultation package was designed to be completed in-person between the City planner, applicant and the applicants consultant (if applicable). This is a more technical document that outlines exactly what is required for an application in black and white. The package features a timeline chart where both parties can discuss and set realistic timelines, taking into account the work and review needed by both the City and applicant.

“We really feel these added measures will help improve communication and make the process clearer and easier for the applicant,” said Duggan.

In addition to these improvements, landscaping securities were amended to allow for an earlier release of hardscape securities for things such as paving and masonry. These often account for a large percentage of landscaping securities, and allowing for an earlier release will help ease the financial burden for applicants. 

“This process is all about looking at ways we could help improve business relations to strengthen the economy,” said Landry. “The earlier release of hardscape securities will help free up finances so developers can put the money to work on their next project.”

Several key stakeholders in the development community were consulted on the proposed changes and feedback was positive.

“If you can make the process easier for both staff and applicants while ensuring development is well-planned and responsible we should be doing that,” said Landry. “I think this new streamlined process achieves that.”

The new site plan streamlining process was approved by Council on Feb. 10, 2014. Staff look forward to monitoring the new process using built-in performance measures.

“We’ve been doing a soft roll-out of the new process over the last few months and it’s been going really well,” said Duggan. “It’s all about progress.”

For more information on the new site plan streamlining process visit www.orillia.ca/siteplan.

The City of Orillia Economic Development Office is a division of the Development Services Department dedicated to assisting existing businesses, attracting new business and strengthening the local economy.

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Dan Landry
Manager of Economic Development
City of Orillia
705-325-4884
dlandry@orillia.ca

Jennifer Ruff
Manager of Communications
City of Orillia
705-325-8929
705-238-9209 (cell)
jruff@orillia.ca