City: Streamlined permits encourage development | nnbw.com

City: Streamlined permits encourage development

Anne Knowles
aknowles@nnbw.biz

A streamlined permitting process helped significantly boost the number of Reno building permits recorded last year, according to the city.

The City of Reno issued 6,670 commercial and residential building permits in 2013, a 17.5 percent jump from the previous year, representing about $417 million in building value, triple the $138 million valuation in 2012.

Residential building permits rose 55 percent to 700 permits, the most permits issued since 2008.

Fred Turnier, director of Community Development for the city, says an expedited process that reduced the time to acquire permits from weeks to days contributed to the bump in permits.

"When people are looking at financing projects, they look at cities and how easy or straightforward it is to develop there," says Turnier. "Developers have been hearing from people who finance that Reno is an easy city to develop in. That sometimes is how they make a choice between Reno or Chico or Roseville."

Turnier says about 98 percent of permits are currently issued in 10 days.

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"In the past, submitted plans would go through all the departments and there was no standard performance measurement so fire might take 15 days, just as an example, and building four days," says Turnier. "Developers never knew how long it would take. At one point, it was taking four to six weeks."

So a couple years ago, the city assembled a team of people from the planning, engineering, building, fire and health departments that participate in the permit process, to enforce a standard performance measurement and to institute a workflow system in Accela, a software program used throughout the departments.

"So, someone in the health district can see the status of a permit or someone can make comments and everyone can see them," says Turnier.

Accela will also be the cornerstone of a regional system for permitting and planning that Reno, Sparks and Washoe County are working towards and plan to launch in the next two years.

The revamped system in Reno was necessitated by the recession, says Turnier. The number of permits dropped, but so did the number of employees in the departments processing the applications.

The community development department now employs 50 people. Turnier didn't have an exact number for the reduction in headcount over the past few years, but says the department once was housed in three floors of the 20,000-square-foot Sinclair Building recently taken over from the city by the University of Nevada, Reno. It now operates out of a quarter of that amount of space in Reno City Hall.

The ongoing goal is to complete 90 percent of all permits within 10 days, says Turnier. The performance measurement is monitored on a monthly basis, when the department reports it to the Building Enterprise Financial Advisory Board, a committee of local contractors and city engineers and planners.

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