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Addressing Minor Variance approval processes through Green Belt project

For staff working on minor variance approval applications and reports, the process has always been cumbersome and awkward. Much of staff time was spent dealing with applications that weren’t complete, and staff was finding numerous delays within the existing process.

Wendy Ellis, Executive Assistant to Director of Development Services Ron Taylor, knew the issues that existed and taking on the task of looking at the minor variance approval process as part of her first Green Belt project was the perfect opportunity.

“We were finding that a lot of reports and packages weren’t getting completed on time and that was a result of a lot of the applications not being complete or having all of the necessary information,” explained Ms. Ellis. “Being able to look at our processes through a Green Belt project was great, it really helped to keep everyone focused.”

Together with her team consisting of Manager of Planning Doug Carroll, Administrative Assistant Susan Cully, Planner 2 Linda Russell and Planner 1’s David Harding and Mark LaHay, the group began looking at minor variance application processes from start to finish.

The team had three main goals going into the project; improve completeness of initial applications, using staff time more efficiently to complete other projects and delivering the best customer service experience possible.

Green Belt team members Doug Carrol, Manager of Planning, Linda Russell, Planner 2, Mark LaHay and David Harding, Planner 1's, Susan Cully, Administrative Assistant, and Wendy Ellis, Executive Assistant to the Director or Development Services.

Green Belt team members Doug Carrol, Manager of Planning, Linda Russell, Planner 2, Mark LaHay and David Harding, Planner 1's, Susan Cully, Administrative Assistant, and Wendy Ellis, Executive Assistant to the Director or Development Services.

The team began work on December 5, 2013, and less than three months later had completed their work with a new comprehensive streamlined process on February 19, 2014.

“Using the Green Belt tools really allowed us to get our ideas on the board and focus on the project,” said Ms. Ellis. “I think the entire team did a fantastic job, and I don’t think we could have realized the results we did without the Green Belt training or doing this as a project the way we did.”

As part of the new process the team implemented a new pre-screening component with the applicant. By having a pre-screening meeting with the applicant City staff now have an opportunity to answer a number of questions for the applicants, which ultimately has made the application process simpler and more straight forward.

“The new process means less staff time is being spent on follow-up with the applicant for clarification on parts of the application,” said Ms. Ellis. “All of the required planning information is now available to the applicant at the pre-screening stage.”

Under the old process minor variance applications required about 30 hours of staff time for the entire process from start to finish. The new one hour pre-screening meeting has resulted in overall processing time being reduced to approximately 28 hours of staff time to complete the application and have it placed on the Committee of Adjustment agenda.

The second item the team looked at was the cost to advertise the minor variance application notices.

“When we looked at the numbers we were spending about $680 per month on advertising in the local newspaper and not all residents in the City received the paper,” said Ms. Ellis. “We were already circulating mailers to residents within 60 metres of the property as well as providing notice to various agencies.”

Green Belt team members Doug Carrol, Manager of Planning, Linda Russell, Planner 2, Mark LaHay and David Harding, Planner 1's, Susan Cully, Administrative Assistant, and Wendy Ellis, Executive Assistant to the Director or Development Services.

As a result, the decision was made to move away from  advertising  the notices in the newspaper but continue with providing notice via mail to homes within the prescribed areas as well notifying the various agencies. In addition, homeowners now also need to post a notice sign on their individual property outlining the minor variance application , and the City now puts the notices on the Website as well.

“The gains were huge,” said Ms. Ellis. “I never thought at the beginning that we would see these kinds of results. I was completely blown away by how well our team did and how much of an impact we could have with this project.”

Through the project, reducing the minor variance application time by introducing pre-screening resulted in a projected $15,840 in productivity savings, while the projected gain from changing the notice process resulted in $7,610 in hard savings.

“This has been a great project to be involved with,” said Ms. Ellis. “I’m looking forward to getting started on another project, and being able to generate $23,000 in savings and productivity gains for our organization is tremendous. This is a great program and I’m really glad I was able to be a part of it.”

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