Tuesday, September 21, 2010

King County to offer same-day building permits

While the type of permits that will qualify is fairly limited, it is definitely a step in the right direction and I applaud Executive Constantine for making it. Let’s see if we can get other permit review times down and bring more predictability to fees charged in reviewing them.

New “over-the-counter” permitting at DDES will enable walk-in, one-day service beginning Oct. 18

Front-line staff and supervisors redesign the process for simple permits to better serve customers and eliminate weeks-long wait time

The weeks-long wait for review of many environmental and building permits in King County will soon be a thing of the past. Beginning Monday, October 18, the county’s Department of Development and Environmental Services (DDES) will provide expedited, one-day or “over the counter” review processes for many permit types.

“It doesn’t make sense for someone who needs a quick oil change to have to wait in line behind someone who needs their engine rebuilt,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “This change brings that same logical approach to our permitting services, and will save our customers time, money, and aggravation.”

Under the guidance of the Executive’s reform agenda, a team of front-line employees and supervisors jointly designed the streamlined process by which customers who need a simple permit will be able to walk into DDES without an appointment, submit an application, and obtain their permit on the same day.

“It has been awkward to talk to people about our ‘over-the-counter’ permits when they have to wait weeks and weeks for an appointment just to get to the counter,” said DDES Director John Starbard. “This is part of the reforms we’re making at DDES to make our services easier, more accessible, and more predictably-priced.”

Permits that can be obtained “over-the-counter” beginning on Monday, October 18, will include small residential remodels, tenant improvements to commercial spaces, building additions, decks, seismic retrofits, and many others. Appointments will still be required for complex development proposals.

Customers who prefer to make an appointment in advance will still have that option.

DDES offered walk-in permit services in the past, but in the late 1990’s the department was compelled to move to an appointment system due to a surge in construction and other permitting activity. Starbard says the current lower volume of permit applications and a smaller customer base due to annexations and incorporations makes it possible to return to a walk-in system for many permit types.
Jarrod Lewis, DDES Assistant Supervisor for the Planning and Customer Services Section, said front-line employees leveraged their practical, daily experience in processing these kinds of permits to create a new, more streamlined, efficient and effective system.

“It has been very rewarding to see our staff come together and develop service improvements that enable us to work more efficiently while also truly benefitting our customers,” he said.

Starbard announced the redesigned permitting process at today’s meeting of the Metropolitan King County Council’s Committee of the Whole.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Secret Squirrel missions of a land use consultant

Having others ask the questions you’re afraid to

Some time ago a client wanted to find a new space for their professional business. They found a home that another business had been using for their office and purchased it. Sometime later, my client questioned whether it was legal for them to operate their business from there. They were afraid to go to the City and ask, for fear they’d be found in violation of City codes but wanted to better understand their situation.

They hired Outdoor Perspectives to quietly investigate the matter for them. We talked with the City and others without disclosing the business or its location, then related our findings back to the client. We discovered the following:

• The property was zoned to allow for professional and legal office space without exception, so they could operate their business on the site but were subject to commercial building codes

• The previous business was using it as a home based business (i.e. using it as their primary residence and their home office). Home based businesses are regulated differently than commercial office space.

• The building did not currently meet commercial building codes. As such, they were non-compliant and subject to a code enforcement action if the City found out and took action against them.

• To bring the office space into commercial building codes compliance, the client would need to:
o Get approval for a Change of Occupancy type from the City

o Bring the building up to commercial standards (i.e. ADA compliant, parking standards etc). Additionally, the improvements done to the structure of the building would need a permit from the City).

In the end, the Client learned how the previous business had been legally operating from the site. Second, they understood what they needed to do to bring their building into compliance. Finally, they had a good idea of what might happen if they choose to continue to operate out of compliance of the City code.

The client was relieved to better understand their situation so they could plan accordingly.