Realty Glimpse 4

Joe Johnson
Manager of Planning and Development
City of Grande Prairie


Mark – what do you do for the city?

Joe – I’m the manager for the planning and development department. The department takes care of two aspects of the development process. We do future land use planning, and we also take care of the development permit side of things.

Mark — I caught that you’re involved in the development end specifically, so tell me, what’s the difference between a building permit and a development permit?

Joe – Our department deals strictly with development permits, the building permits are handles by a separate department called inspection services. A development permit is essentially authorizing development or land use as it applies to the land use bylaw. Some people refer to that as a zoning bylaw. Whereas a building permit is a authorization to do the actual construction. It is the more technical side of things, such as the materials used, how it’s wired, how it’s plumbed, and all that sort of stuff.

Mark – Why are development and building permits important?

Joe – Well, they’re important because it’s essentially the city authorizing development in conformance with two very important documents, the development permit would authorize development to show the development is in conformance with the land use bylaw, building permit is essentially saying that the manner of construction is to code, and therefore safe.

Mark – so you’re going to apply for the development permit before the building permit?

Joe – That’s right.

Mark – What kind of things would I come here for to get a development permit?

Joe – The development permit, in the residential context anyhow, would be for the house when it’s initially built, if you’re building a detached garage, a deck, or a shed, depending on on the size, might need a development permit, all the way down to if you’re doing home occupations, or secondary suites, all that stuff needs reviewed in the context of the land use bylaw.

Mark – Secondary suites, those are often used by people to help them pay for the mortgage; some people are very interested in secondary suites. Can you tell me what is the cities interest in a secondary suite?

Joe – The cities interest in secondary suites is two fold in the sense that we recognize the need for diverse housing stock, and secondary suite fill a very specific niche in that housing stock – not everyone can afford to buy their own house and not everyone wants to live in an apartment, so a secondary suite can meet some peoples needs. They’ve always played an important role in the housing stock. However, we also want to balance those needs with our goals of maintaining a peaceful and orderly neighbourhood. The standards in the land use bylaw are designed to address the potential negative implications of a secondary suite, such as accessible parking needs and what not, so we have some standards in the land use bylaw that help to address those.

Mark – So I’ve heard of the word variance, that you can apply for a variance, can you hit on variance real quick?

Joe – a variance is basically when an applicant or an application is proposing to do a development where a certain aspect of the development doesn’t entirely meet the development standards in the land use bylaw. So an example would be a side yard setback. If the land use bylaw says you’re required to have four feet as a side yard, and your development is proposing three feet, then that would be a variance to that development standard, so we have a process to address that. Applying for a variance does not automatically guarantee that you will get approval. It’s fast that we will review it and we will take into consideration the potential impacts that that variance, or that reduced standard, would have on adjacent property owners, and evaluate the merits of each individual application. As part of that process, adjacent neighbours are notified, some advertisements are placed in the news paper, a sign is posted on the property, and we basically just consider all different factors in making our decision and then issuance.

Mark – There is a process for that. So I’m just thinking right now about getting municipal compliance on a real property report, you need to have some time to get that done, right? That may be why you need to apply for that variance, to get that compliance?

Joe – Yes, if something was built that was either done without a development permit, or was not done consistent with the development permit, then the way to address it might be by way of a variance.

Mark – so there’s going to be time, but also a charge, a cost. What kind of cost might I expect to pay for a development permit? Can you give me kinda a range for maybe different types of things?

Joe – It depends on the nature of the proposed development, again, this is strictly in the residential setting, if it’s something like a detached garage, or a covered deck or something, it might be in the neighbourhood of $150, all the way to $500 if it’s a more complex proposal with a variance attached to it.

Mark – So I’m considering buying a home in this specific area, across from my house is an empty field; how can I find out what is going to go into that field, is there a way of doing that?

Joe – there’s a few ways of doing it. There’s the do-it-yourself approach, you can go to our website, it’s the and navigate your way to the planning and development department, and there we have links to all our planning documents, so new neighbourhoods are planned in accordance with what’s called an outline plan, and the outline plan shows the future development of that area in terms of land use, the road layout, provision of park space, if there’s school sites, commercial sites, multi family sites, and so on. So if you’re up late at night and you know no one is going to answer the phone, you can get onto our website and you might stumble upon the answer. If you’d just like a hand to try to figure out what’s going to happen in your neighbourhood then you can give us a call, we’re at the city service centre, and our number is 780-538-0325, and you can just ask to speak to a planner and we would be willing to sit down and help you out.