Some war stories
Fascinating, amusing, and appalling
We desperately need more housing, and yet we seem to have a lot of difficulty making housing the top priority.
Developers tend to be circumspect about openly criticizing municipal governments for making it difficult to get approval to build housing. They depend on municipal approval in order to build anything, so they can’t run the risk of offending the regulators. Nevertheless, as a layperson, it’s fascinating to hear their stories, even if they tend to be elliptical.
A story from a developer on a Reddit thread:
I lost a zoning application once where a lady came to complain that her cat liked to sleep in the grass near a tree I was going to cut down... So instead of 20 units of housing this old lady's cat gets a comfy nap spot. Okay.... If that's how this works.
Someone else easily topped that story:
I recall the weirdest public hearing I ever did was a small multifamily project - 52 units - in a little community that would have seen a little unnatural wetland get paved.
The public hearing was the standard complaints - parking, crime, the implication that the people who lived there would be "different" - but then a lady got up to read a poem about the wetland. And it became very clear to everyone in the gallery that she'd had a sexual experience there.
We just didn't know what to say. I mean, you can prepare for questions about parking and infrastructure, and just dance around the racism as best you can. But neither me nor my engineers were prepared to discuss a 70 year old woman reciting a poem about losing her virginity in a swamp.
If I never do another public meeting in my life it's too soon.
To celebrate Friday, here is a *fun* thread about some of the wonderful hiccups I've experienced when trying to build new homes, and I think about them often when people ask "but how is this process broken"? So now you get to share that frustration too
On 1 non-profit, below market housing project, we had funding in place, construction contract signed, permits issued, but the lender, city, and other lender's lawyers couldn't agree on whose mortgage should be listed 1st on the property title, so we stalled for 6 MONTHS
On another, someone from BC Housing wouldn't approve my budget because they didn't like that the architect was charging higher fees to work on a BC Housing project
"BC Housing's design guidelines should REDUCE their costs", they said
"that's not reality" I wish I could've said
On a new rental project, someone wanted me to make my 19 storey building look less like a 19 storey building using different methods of sculpting the building so that each floor had a different footprint that didn't align, so that it would be more "interesting" for pedestrians
On another non-profit below-market project, I had a total of 10 resubmissions for rezoning because we kept addressing city comments that conflicted with previous city comments
like engineering couldn't agree with planning about whether to use pavers or asphalt
took over a year
Other times I've had lender's design comments/guidelines conflict with City planning/design comments and spent months mediating between the groups
On a below-market non-profit project, we had to relocate a Metro Van storm pipe from the middle to the side of the property, but they wanted us to explore rebuilding another 3 blocks of pipe which would cost ???? and ???? much time & money
Another time, my occupancy permit was delayed by almost a month because the city's occupancy-permit building code official didn't agree with the fire protection approach that was signed off by a different city building code official at the start of the project
Another time a city planner wanted us to look at making a tower have L-shaped floors to make the building appear "smaller" which would have added another stairwell + 2 stairs and ????? costs
Another project I worked on we spent a lot of time & money designing a big stormwater, sewer, and service system only to have our single family neighbour's faulty septic tank leak onto our site, which caused a costly and unpleasant issue
On a non-profit project with a church we were required by the city to get a crane swing agreement with the neighbours, and one of them originally demanded $100k but eventually they "settled" for $50k
just free money for neighbouring single-family resident
Another time I worked with a contractor who just decided to build stuff differently than what was on the drawings without telling anyone, and when discovered, tried to argue that it wasn't a big deal. Took over a year after occupancy to negotiate the resolution
Another city allowed the public to come to a public hearing to speak about things that weren't up for public feedback and then opposed the project (which was offering below-market homes on non-profit land)
On another site, the city asked us to build an extra 2 levels of parking but didn't agree to pay any of the increased costs that came after the initial quote for the cost of those 2 levels
It may sound a lot like much of my grief is only with public/government entities, and I'm sure there are other challenges between consultants and contractors (or developer teams), so please note this list is 100% very, very biased