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Maintaining momentum: 3 ways to keep a large development project moving forward

February 01, 2021

Considering a large project in your community? Here’s some advice on how to secure the extensive approvals you may need to make your project a reality

As a project manager, one of my main objectives is keeping a project moving. It’s all about that forward momentum! I love watching colleagues, who are experts in their field, come together to create something new and exciting.

I’m extremely proud of our work on the City of Waterloo’s West Side Employment Lands (WSEL) project, where I managed a team that included more than 15 different professional disciplines from within Stantec, as well as key external consultants and experts. The WSEL area, located in Waterloo, Ontario, is comprised of over 110 acres of future business employment land that will undoubtedly create hundreds of jobs and provide needed space for tech companies, manufacturing, light industrial, and commercial businesses. The project is currently under construction and I’m thrilled to watch it take shape.

If you’re considering a large project like this within your community, it’s important to be aware of the extensive approvals that you may require to keep the project moving (like I said, it’s all about momentum). Every agency and/or authority having jurisdiction will have its own set of needs, and it’s important to know how to facilitate and manoeuvre those requirements. Here are a few pointers on how to secure those all-important approvals, keep things on track, and ensure you’ll be able to get shovels in the ground sooner than later.

Forward momentum is essential on large projects like business parks.

1. Know the right contacts

Within the development industry, it’s important to work with consultants that have experience communicating with agencies. Oftentimes, the role of an agency liaison stretches beyond local and regional government levels, commonly requiring direct contact with provincial designations, private organizations, crown corporations, and Indigenous communities to reach successful conclusions on land development projects.

My team has fostered relationships with local, regional, provincial, and federal bodies, and we’ve become familiar with key people within these organizations. We follow—and often help refine—the policies that govern development applications through our active industry engagement to assist in removing unnecessary and lengthy delays to project timelines.

I’d like to emphasize that last point. A consultant’s industry engagement and connections can help you deal with possible project lags or obstacles. For example, my team and I have used our advocacy in the Ontario Home Builders Association (OHBA) to successfully see the removal of the requirement for an RSC (Record of Site Condition) for temporary roads that are ultimately developed for residential or employment uses. This removal can shave upwards of a year of additional consulting work and provincial approvals.

Everyone working on a project, no matter how big or small their role, must understand the timing expectations.

2. Get specific: Be aware of distinct needs

Here’s another very important step in recognizing the goals of a project: Understand the requirements of each approval authority, as well as the timing to achieve procurement of these approvals. I’ll give you an example from the West Side Employment Lands project. In addition to understanding the policy and approvals framework of the City of Waterloo and the Region of Waterloo, we also had to facilitate consent of the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP), Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries (MHSTCI), Hydro One Networks Inc., Infrastructure Ontario, and the Grand River Conservation Authority, among others.

Knowing these agencies, understanding their policies, and having experience with the timing of each approval will ensure critical paths are not missed on your project. During the West Side Employment Lands design process, we strategically began groundwater monitoring well in advance of the design process. Why? To catch the seasonal groundwater freshets (spring thaws resulting from snow and ice melt) and meet regional monitoring guidelines. We also sought appropriate permits to begin tree clearing and removal outside of migratory bird nesting seasons. Without acknowledging these policies and associated timing windows, our project would have seen significant delays.

It’s important to know the specific requirements of each agency. They are not boilerplate. Every agency is unique and has a process to follow. 

The West Side Employment Lands area, located in Waterloo, Ontario, is comprised of over 110 acres of future business employment land.

3. Consider the timeline: Realistic vs. fantasy

Along with knowing how to facilitate the approvals process, it’s vital to create a realistic timeline.

In a project kick-off meeting a few years back, a client once jokingly told me of what they called their “HOT schedule”, which stood for: Hopelessly Optimistic Timeline! In my previous 15 years on the job, I had never heard this term, and after having a good laugh about it, I realized that I never wanted to be in a “hopeless” situation on a project. So, I always try to build a realistic timeline that is reflective of real timing vs. make-believe.

As I mentioned above, a project must be in constant progressive movement. Everyone working on a project, no matter how big or small their role, must understand the timing expectations. For the West Side Employment Lands project, our team understood the direction, laid out a careful plan to execute the work, and continued to maintain contact with the client to assure forward progression. We also often met with other agencies to ensure they understood the timing objectives and were aware of any changes. We gave those agencies the chance to provide input on how and where timing could be expedited.

When it comes to keeping things on track, I’d like to salute my fellow project managers out there. The role of the project manager becomes essential when executing projects with early due diligence or reconnaissance, multiple sub-disciplines, and various stages of work and/or processes. It’s all about careful execution—whether it’s regarding zoning approval, site plan application, building permits, or the opening of a municipal road.

Considering working on new subdivision or commercial development? Make sure you build a realistic timeline and inform everyone working on the project of those timing expectations.

A project coming together

I enjoy watching projects like the West Side Employment Lands come together. It’s one of the best parts of my job. For this project, our team provided several services to our client, including urban planning, civil engineering, legal survey, geotechnical, hydrogeological, archaeology, environmental site assessment, natural environment, stormwater management, landscape architecture, and traffic and transportation analysis and design. I’m excited to eventually see the benefits of the development for residents and businesses in Waterloo Region. 

I hope you’ve learned a bit more about what it takes to secure important approvals to keep your project on schedule. I wish you good luck on manoeuvring the process and maintaining that all-important element: Forward momentum. 

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