City of Edmonton sharpens planning and development customer service

Kim Petrin is in the listening to business business. 

“Edmonton competes to attract investment and talent, not just in the region or province, but nationally and globally,” said Petrin, Branch Manager of Development Services with the City of Edmonton. 

“It’s critical the City provides service in line with our customer’s expectations and way of doing business. We’ve heard loud and clear from investors that they want the City to be a partner in their decision to invest, which is why we are making big changes to how we do business as a municipality.” 

Petrin, who worked for the City of Edmonton from 2001 to 2015,  has returned after a four-year stint at Stantec, where she worked as a Principal of Community Development. 

Petrin has returned to a City committed to a planning and development process that is more consistent, easier to understand and more efficient, whether in development and building projects, rezonings, subdivision developments or safety code inspections. 

The look in the mirror confirmed what is needed—clear, predictable timelines for applications—and underlined what is annoying: inconsistent information to customers from various City sources.  

In October 2018, Councillor Michael Walters asked a question: What would be needed to make 30 to 45 days the benchmark timing to issue a development permit?

For the next four months, City experts worked with six development projects to learn where the delays crept in. 

“My investors don’t want their money tied up…”

One of those projects was a plan from Panattoni for an initial 216,000 sq. ft. spec building and immediately followed by a 318,000 sq.ft. industrial build to suit facility in northwest Edmonton. 

“We’ve all heard ‘location, location, location’ when it comes to investing and developing industrial real estate, but it’s evolved now to ‘timing, timing, timing,’” said Brad Hoffman, Panattoni’s Vice-President for Western Canada. 

“Edmonton has typically been slow to issue permits,” he said. “My investors don’t want their money at risk waiting for permits to get issued and build to suit tenants may choose other locations outside Edmonton if it can be done faster.” 

The Panattoni permits came in 42 days. The other five projects did not meet the 45 days. 

Predictable, negotiated timelines

“The critical lessons we learned by looking at what it takes to issue permits in 30 to 45 days is that investors want predictable permit timelines upfront and they want to know their projects are being prioritized,” said Adam Shamchuk, Client Liaison Unit Lead at the City of Edmonton. 

“A predictable timeline, especially one that is shorter than what is typically expected, depends on a mutual commitment from the City and our clients based on shared understanding,” said Shamchuk. 

“To deliver predictable timelines, we work together with our clients before an application is even made to understand critical milestones and address project complexities early on. This allows us to prioritize our work to meet the timelines that matter to investors.”

Strategic, single point of contact

The pilot project’s collaborative City-industry spirit is visible in the Enhanced Service offering from the City of Edmonton’s Client Liaison Unit. 

The team stewards projects through planning and development processes to improve certainty and predictability for those involved in major, significant, complex, 

sometimes-atypical, industrial and commercial projects, including both infill and greenfield developments.  

They also act as a point of contact for customers and a primary advisor for external stakeholders and internal staff. 

“The team will work with investors on projects that will move the needle on employment and growing our tax base, and which align with the City’s vision,” said Petrin. 

“We will focus on building mutual understanding of critical timelines, milestones, and processes. Working together with a focus on project outcomes means that investors can be confident in their decision to build in Edmonton.”

Big picture, local picture

For Panattoni’s Hoffman, sharpening the planning and development processes at the City is a piece of proof that customers are being heard. 

“It makes Edmonton more competitive in the region and frankly compared to other cities in Western Canada when I can say to my investors and prospective tenant’s  we have the support of the City,” said Hoffman.

For Stephanie McCabe, the Deputy City Manager of the Urban Form and Corporate Strategic Development Department, regulatory agility—both in the regulations themselves and in the City’s approach to regulation—is vitally important.

“We’ve heard from industry that they are appreciative of the work we’re doing to improve our processes,” said McCabe.

The City will complete the six process improvement projects under the Urban Form Business Transformation Initiative by the end of 2019. 

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