Easing the permit pain

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Staff says look at process was an ‘eye opener’

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Going through the permitting process was an “eye opener” for Isle of Wight County staff, according to Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson.

The eye opening experience occurred as staff began working on reforming the county’s central permitting office.

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The central permitting office, opened in 2014, was designed to be a one-stop shop for those looking to initiate projects in Isle of Wight County. It encompasses planning and zoning, building inspections, utility services and public works. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Despite the effort, the office is not viewed as a one-stop destination, and the process is considered confusing, expensive and unfriendly to business, Robertson said in a recent presentation to the Board of Supervisors.

So county staff went through the permitting process as if they were customers and developed flow charts for a simple single-family residence, as well as one for a simple commercial project.

As a result, staff realized that getting a permit can be “intimidating and confusing” for those new to the process, Robertson said.

“It was pretty enlightening.”

Part of the enlightenment was how expensive the process could be. To get to the 10-day review for a single-family house costs about $300, according to the flow chart. That includes entering the project into the Munis system, the building plan review fee and half the stormwater fee.  

The average resident figures they pay their taxes, their stormwater fee and now have to pay for a project review from staff, said Board Chairman Rex Alphin.

Robertson agreed.

“These things can get expensive. It was an eye opener for us,” he said, adding that the process for a commercial project is even more complex and expensive.

The county wants to avoid a situation where someone gets halfway through the process and finds they cannot afford the permit, Robertson said.

However, some steps cannot be eliminated because they are required by the state, Robertson said.

Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree asked if smaller projects could be expedited through the 10-day review process.

Robertson said they try to be fair and treat all projects the same and would rather tell a customer it will be 10 days and they get it back in eight, rather than vice versa.

Staff will undergo some customer service training, as well as develop videos and tools that customers can view prior to coming to the office, Robertson said.

They also plan to develop some flow charts for more complex projects to further improve the process, he said.  {/mprestriction}