Jurisdictions seeking to safely expedite permits for complex projects in multi-unit residential buildings would do well to follow the City of Edmonton’s example and establish client liaison units, says a new report.
Established after a collaborative industry-city panel “identified inefficiencies in the permitting of innovative or complex building projects,” writes the Pembina Institute, Edmonton’s Client Liaison Unit will help guide the permit-heavy projects through all stages in the planning and developing process. Critically, “the client liaison becomes the point of contact for applicants and the primary advisor for external stakeholders and internal staff.”
To be eligible, a project needs to be complex (“due to political or public interest, servicing and infrastructure challenges, or design and construction details”), be located on a site “that supports the City’s vision for growth” (for example, near a transit hub), and present a clear economic or social good (such as job creation or increased climate resilience).
The unit’s first retrofit client, the Sundance Housing Co-op Deep Energy Retrofit project, was actually an exception, Pembina explains: While the liaison office is meant for new builds, the co-op was invited to participate because its prefabricated exterior wall panels demonstrated “an innovative approach to retrofitting the building envelope while tenants remain in place, which could help transform the retrofit market.” Meanwhile, the “modernization and acceleration of the retrofit market would in turn help Edmonton meet its 2050 carbon pollution reduction targets.”
Pembina is out with an infographic that shows what it’ll take to get it done.
The Sundance Co-op benefitted from the clarity the liaison team provided “on the permitting process and the required approvals,” Pembina adds. Moreover, “both the City and the contractor emphasized the importance of building trust between industry and the city through open, committed collaboration.”
Pembina says city liaison teams can help expedite complex projects by convening “scoping meetings with project proponents and relevant city staff to pre-emptively resolve potential issues, identify opportunities for project improvements, and establish jointly agreed-upon timelines.” They can also play a role in conflict resolution, communication delivery, and “assigning appropriate in-house experts to collaborate with the applicant on complex or unique project challenges, from problem identification to solution implementation.”