Kelowna building AI tools to speed up permitting process

Kelowna is one of the first cities in the world to use AI for permitting.

Kelowna approved more than $1.2B in permits in 2022. – City of Kelowna

Key Takeaways:

  • Kelowna officials are partnering with Microsoft to develop AI tools that make building permitting faster.
  • The tools include a chatbot to answer bylaw questions and an AI tool that checks applications in real time.
  • The city says the tools could speed up the process by 20% to 30% right off the bat.

The Whole Story:

There’s a new project development ally at the city of Kelowna that wants to help get you building – and it’s not human.  

The city has partnered with Microsoft to be one of the first cities in the world to use artificial intelligence to speed up its project development process. The project includes two areas of focus. The first is an information bot and the other is AI assistance for applications. 

“Each municipality, including Kelowna, have their own bylaws that relate to building, their own nuances that can make it tough to understand what applies to your building,” explained Jazz Pabla, the city’s director of information services. 

The information bot can receive inquiries and, based on what is written, give answers comparable what a human would. Rather than having to pore over bylaw documents, users can simply ask the bot. 

“This first part of the project is purely informational,” he said. “It breaks down the barrier between information the government has and what information people want. It’s a more conversational approach to getting that data.”

The second phase of the project aims to put a dent in building permit wait times by trimming down the back and forth between the city and builders. This tool shadows applicants as they fill out their forms and tells them in real time if they are compliant or not. 

“If you can get the application close to 100% compliant and stop the back and forth, what happens is it goes through the system quicker.” 

Pabla said the city is hoping to have some product to show by the end of the year as right now the focus is on the information bot piece. 

The city is also modernizing its back-end system to include the ability to tag applications coming through with AI assistance. Pabla said the thinking is that since those applications are likely to be more complete than other ones, it could change in how the city handles them. 

Another time saver will be the fact that the AI tools can be available online, anytime. 

“24/7, 365, there could be an assistant with stuff to get you going,” he said.That is beneficial as not everyone is available between 8 a.m and 4 p.m.” 

Kelowna’s team is working directly with Microsoft’s Redmond, Washington headquarters on the project. The goal of the project, which  is to take the project

“They recognize that this could significantly increase the amount of housing available in communities if the black and forth were to stop and permits could get out quicker.” 

The city plans to share their solutions, which have been funded by grants, with other municipalities. The city also intends to look at doing automated plan checking which would check for initial application drawings for compliance to eliminate time spent going back and forth there as well. 

“For something as basic as a deck, why would you ever need to talk to someone at City Hall?” he said. “Especially if the drawing and application are done correctly. We should be able to issue that right away. That is the goal: to issue as fast as we can. We want to make developers’ lives easier and we see AI doing that significantly. We also want to make sure we are building well-constructed stuff so we want to balance that.” 

Pabla believes that the tools are likely to generate 20% to 30% time savings right off the bat and that is likely to improve as they get better. 

“We get confidence scores on answers it delivers and we are updating it daily where if it gets an answer wrong, we point it out,” he said. “There could be a world where the applications that come in are fully done properly in AI. It could be sped up and there is a really good use case to have that.”


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