A local developer is growing more and more frustrated with project delays as he awaits the city’s green light to build homes in Orillia.
Dennis Bottero, of Landen Homes, estimates he’s a year behind getting started on the company’s development of 36 townhomes at 388 West St. N., and he says the city’s approval process is moving slowly since development boomed through the pandemic.
“My last two projects … we basically got approved within the year, and I am well beyond that on this project,” he told OrilliaMatters.
Before shovels can hit the ground, developers must complete an array of studies — which might include environmental, hydrological, or engineering, among many other potential reports — prior to approval.
Bottero said he has no issue with the process itself, noting the requirements are “always fair,” but he has issues with the lengthy wait he has found himself in.
“The frustrating thing is as part of the application process, you do a submission (of your documents), and the submission comes back with comments, so you’ve got to get all your consultants to respond to the comments,” he said.
Landen Homes received its notice of complete application from the city in December 2021 and is now on its fourth submission to address the comments and issues related to the project.
“It takes your consultants a couple of weeks just to look at it. Then it takes them a couple of weeks to respond,” Bottero said. “You send it to the city. They are swamped. They’ve got so many applications because there’s such a shortfall in housing that developers are looking to get all their projects approved.”
Though he said the project is close to getting approved, he estimates he will not be able to begin building until next year.
About 100 development projects are currently under review by the city, and staff confirmed there has been a much higher number of applications in recent years.
“The city is currently experiencing high levels of activity within all sectors of development,” said senior planner Jeff Duggan. “Although a slowing of development and redevelopment activity was anticipated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, development activity actually accelerated since 2020 and has not yet shown signs of slowing down.”
However, Duggan said, on average, applications are still being approved at similar rates as those prior to the boom in applications. He said the city processes roughly 600 building permits per year.
“Generally, the development approval process does not take longer than in previous years, although the more complex applications do undergo additional requirements,” he said. “Every project is unique and, depending on various factors, some have additional challenges that need to be worked through that take additional time.”
Bottero’s town home development is one such project with added complexities, Duggan said, with Bottero noting the project needed a peer reviewer to assess its hydrological reports.
“Mr. Bottero’s 388 West St. N. project has been active since May of 2022,” Duggan said. “In regard to this specific development application, there are complexities related to the development that the city has been actively working through with Mr. Bottero.”
Bottero made note of the length of time it takes for communication to unfold between the project’s consultants, peer reviewers, and city staff.
“You’ve got not only your own consultants that take time, not only the city, but then the peer reviewers have to respond,” he said. “They get it back to the city, the city gets it back to us, and we get our consultants involved, and before you know it, two months go by for a few comments.”
Beyond delaying the projects, Bottero said lengthy applications, as well as inflated material costs, add substantial cost to developments, which in turn reflects the market cost of the finished product.
“We need all these houses. Municipalities are swamped with applications because builders want to get in there and build to satisfy (the) need, but builders are also faced with more cost,” he said. “Can the market absorb it? That’s what it comes down to.”
Ensuring projects are in “strict compliance with all provincial and municipal requirements” is the key role the city plays in the development process, Duggan said.
He said the city has added staff in recent years as a result of the province placing responsibilities for groundwater and stormwater management, climate change readiness, and more into the hands of municipalities, though he noted the city does look at ways to make the process quicker.
“Although city staff are always exploring ways to increase development approval efficiencies, it is important to note that every project is held to the same high standards that are in place to ensure all new development can integrate into the community without compromise to the environment or expense to the city,” he said.