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City of Burlington: Enabling More Homes Through Technology

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*Please see below a news release issued by the City of Burlington.

Burlington, Ont. — April 30, 2024 — Technology has a part to play in enabling more homes in the City of Burlington. At the April meeting of the Pipeline to Permit Standing Committee, members received an update about some of the innovative ways the City is using technology to speed up the permitting process and make progress on our housing targets.

1.     Assistive AI pilot projects – Using assistive AI technology, the City has undertaken two digital pilot projects to explore how technology can improve the permitting process.

The two pilots include:

  • An AI tool to assess the zoning bylaws related to industrial-commercial buildings, which can be further extended to all building types. In this case, the digital tool completes a review of the plans uploaded by an applicant to ensure they meet the requirements for things such as setbacks, heights, floor area ratios, landscape areas and parking ratios.

Burlington is the second city in Canada to use this technology to improve its permitting process and the first city in Canada to use the technology specifically for development on employment lands.

  • An AI tool to assess architectural drawings against the rules of the Ontario Building Code. In this pilot, applicant drawings for single family residential homes, four-to-six-storey apartment buildings and mid-rise commercial buildings are uploaded and evaluated against the relevant building code requirements. For the pilot, these include exposed building face and separation, the flooring dimensions, stairway design, and minimum floor areas.

In both pilots, a detailed compliance report is generated for the user, providing the applicant with immediate feedback about which aspects of the design pass, require additional consideration, or fail the set requirements. The technology’s ability to review designs sets it apart from other technologies by delivering the feedback quickly, clearly and efficiently. This provides value to the City, customers, and staff, including:

  • Saved time, by reducing the number of manual exchanges between applicants and City staff
  • Allowing applicants to have immediate feedback on proposals gives them time to make modifications prior to submitting their application
  • Faster approvals and turn-around time on issuing building permits
  • Shortened design time
  • Higher quality of design submissions
  • Financial savings on the cost of multiple design revisions
  • Enhanced transparency about the City of Burlington’s development review process

“Burlington is a leader across Canada, being the second city in our country to use Assistive AI technology to help speed up permits and the first city to use it specifically for the development of employment lands. Housing is one of the biggest issues we’re dealing with in Burlington. Using technology initiatives to streamline the permit and application process is a pivotal step towards meeting the City’s housing priorities. Efficient and streamlined permit processes are crucial for accommodating and managing growth in a coordinated manner. They also offer an enhanced user experience. With the integration of digital platforms, applicants will find the process easier to navigate and more intuitive, with features like real-time tracking and instant feedback.” — Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward

2.     Improvements to pre-building approval process
In March 2023, the City launched MyFiles, an online self-serve tool designed to enhance the visibility of the pre-building approval process for applicants. MyFiles lets applicants check the status of their pre-building approval application in real time as it goes through each step in the review process.

The City has also made numerous process improvements that have positively impacted the speed of the pre-building approval process. Previously, pre-building approvals took an average of 17 weeks from the initial receipt of an application until an applicant could apply for a building permit. Through the process improvements, pre-building approvals now take an average of 5.5 weeks before an applicant can apply for a building permit, with 30 per cent of applications taking two weeks or less.

“Through the City’s Digital Business Strategy, our commitment to Burlington’s advancement is reflected in our strategic technological investments. These focus on key city-wide goals, including our pursuit of new housing opportunities. As pioneers in municipal AI application, we’re learning and growing incrementally — beginning with assistive-AI to refine and improve our operations. Our goal is to meet the rising expectations for digital services and make meaningful enhancements to the way our residents are engaged and interact with city services.” — Chad MacDonald, Executive Director of Digital Service & Chief Information Officer, City of Burlington

3.     Call for Innovation (CFI)
The City is taking a collaborative approach to reaching the market for digital solutions to meet its housing targets, using a Call for Innovation (CFI). A CFI allows the City to engage organizations who have experience providing technology enabled solutions to address a specific need. The City can collaborate with the vendor community through the CFI to learn more about which products or services might work best to meet the City’s need. In April, a CFI closed, asking for AI-based solutions to help streamline the review of planning and zoning applications for the development of new single-family housing, multi-residential housing and industrial/commercial buildings. 

4.     Unleashing the power of data
In line with the principles in the Digital Business Strategy, to be a data-driven organization, the City has invested in a data-visualization tool to showcase our progress, insights, and reports against our 2031 housing targets.

The benefits of this tool include:

  • Automated updates and increased efficiency – the tool provides real-time updates on how we are tracking against our housing goal, while reducing the manual hours required to put together a report
  • Enhanced insights for decision making – the tool highlights insights and opportunities for enhancements to customer service where required
  • User-friendly visualization – easy-to-read dashboard for users
  • Continuous improvement – the flexibility of the tool allows staff to make continuous improvements and real-time adjustments based on feedback received from users

“The progress we are making on simplifying planning approvals would not be possible without the combined efforts and enthusiasm of our staff in Community Planning and Digital Service. Together, we are trying things out, seeing what’s working and looking to build on our initial successes. The implementation of the process improvements and MyFiles is a giant leap forward from where we were in terms of enhancing the customer experience for the pre-building approval process.” — Jamie Tellier, Director of Community Planning, City of Burlington

“Leveraging the advancements of technology in the development and building permit review process will assist all involved parties. These initiatives will provide opportunities to increase the quality of the initial submission which, in turn, should reduce multiple resubmissions. Increasing the accuracy of submissions will reduce review timeframes and ultimately speed up the review process.” — Nick Anastasopolous, Chief Building Official, City of Burlington

Burlington is a city where people, nature and business thrive. Sign up to learn more about Burlington at burlington.ca/subscribe and follow @CityBurlington on social media.

Quick Facts

  • With 265,000 people expected to live in Burlington by 2051, the City of Burlington is taking steps to enable more homes and has pledged 29,000 more housing units by 2031.
  • The City is helping developers get shovels in the ground by making the development approval process easy and accessible so applications can funnel from the planning pipeline to building permit stage.
  • As of April 17, the City has approved 702 housing units through building permits issued in 2024, including apartments and single detached homes. There are currently over 1017 housing units under construction.

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A Better Burlington began in 2006 after my neighbours said they felt left out of city decisions, learning about them only after they’d been made. As journalist for 22 years, I thought “I can do something about that” and a website and newsletter were born. They’ve taken various forms and names over the years, but the intent remains: To let you know what’s happening at City Hall before decisions are made, so you can influence outcomes for A Better Burlington. The best decisions are made when elected representatives tap the wisdom of our community members, and welcome many different perspectives.This site allows residents to comment and debate with each other; our Commenting Guidelines established in 2016 aim to keep debate respectful. Got an idea or comment you want to share privately? Please, get in touch:

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