The City of Vancouver has a backlog of rezoning applications and enquiries, and the City is looking at establishing a prioritization framework that would allow some applications to move through approval processes at an expedited pace.

In a report dated April 25, City staff noted that it's currently processing about 100 rezoning applications and 120 rezoning enquiries, amounts staff say are more than double the normal workload. (Rezoning enquiries are, essentially, preliminary applications, 64% of which staff estimate to proceed to formal rezoning applications.)

The prioritization framework staff are proposing is not just about reducing their workload, however, it's also about getting more homes built. The rezoning applications and enquiries represent about 35,000 units of housing, which amounts to about three or four years of housing supply that Vancouver desperately needs, on top of about 8.7 million sq. ft of job space.

"The application volume is also in excess of what staff and Council can process through public hearings in a single year," staff wrote in the report.

In 2021, the City launched a new Policy Enquiry Process (PEP) for rezoning proposals that do not comply with adopted policies or plans, but offer opportunities to advance other objectives.

Staff say that they have received 46 PEP applications since October 1, 2021. That may not sound like a lot, but staff say that processing these kind of applications consists of "a high-level conceptual review" involving multiple departments and can be "time-consuming and an inefficient way to achieve desired outcomes." To date, only 11 of the 46 proposals have "met or exceeded the minimum criteria," which means a lot of time can also go towards proposals that do not ultimately bear fruit.

With all this in mind, what staff are recommending is a framework that would allow them to focus on the applications with the best chances of proceeding to construction, in order to deliver more housing and to do so faster. This would also increase the amount of job space, as rezoning applications often include commercial retail space and/or office space, and would also better optimize City resources, staff say.

Historically, rezoning applications that are compliant with existing properties take about 12 to 14 months to process -- from the applicant paying the necessary fee to a decision at a public hearing. Rezoning enquiries typically take around 12 to 16 weeks.

The new prioritization framework would more so keep the proposals that are likely to proceed to construction at the current pace, and de-emphasize some of the others, bringing estimated timelines for those to about 16 to 18 months for applications and 18 to 20 weeks for enquiries.

Whether or not an application is prioritized would also depend on whether the proposal includes rental housing of any kind, or condos -- points of emphasis that were also core to the now-defeated Broadway Pace of Change Policy. Staff estimate that approximately 45% of rezoning applications and enquiries would qualify to be prioritized.

City of Vancouver Rezoning Applications Enquiries Prioritization FrameworkTarget timelines for the rezoning applications and enquiries prioritization framework. (City of Vancouver)

In addition, staff are also hoping to refine the PEP, with more details expected in Fall 2023. In the meantime, PEP applications that necessitate a dedicated team of staff will be waitlisted, with those that meet minimum criteria continuing to be processed under the regular rezoning stream.

PEP applications that are successful often proceed to an enhanced rezoning, where staff and the applicant team will work together to identify site-specific issues and/or policy gaps, then work towards addressing them ahead of submitting a formal rezoning application. Applications that go through this process also include more extensive public consultation than usual, with one example being Bonnis Properties' big project on 800-878 Granville Street, which went through a virtual open house in April.

Staff are also proposing that enhanced rezonings be suspended until 2024, or "until such time as staffing capacity is available."

READ: North Vancouver to Review and Revamp "Antiquated" Zoning Bylaw

Additionally, staff are advancing various "operational strategies" to further increase processing times, such as exploring the possibility of adding more public hearings, creating more "pre-zoning" possibilities via by-law changes, hiring more staff, and improving accessibility and guidance for applications online.

Vancouver City Council will consider the prioritization framework for policy rezoning applications on Tuesday, May 9.