Scottsdale aims to streamline business permitting process in 2015

0107Ns News Story (Business Permits) FOR WEBScottsdale Vice Mayor Guy Phillips is spearheading an effort to create a streamlined process for new and existing proprietors to navigate the municipal perils of getting a business or development off the ground within city limits.

Guy Phillips

Guy Phillips

Vice Mayor Phillips, who says he has been in the construction business all of his professional life, contends it’s just too complicated and time-consuming for new and expanding businesses to obtain necessary permits in Scottsdale.

On average, it takes about 21 days for a new business to receive its approvals to move forward with permits that include building plans and tax and business licenses, city officials say.

Proposed changes include the creation of an ombudsman position at city hall and a smart phone application to help applicants along the permit highway to prosperity, city officials say.

Potential changes discussed include:

  • Reducing plan review turnaround time;
  • Creating an ombudsman position to be a single point of contact for customers;
  • Placing computer terminals in the One Stop Shop waiting area to provide training on digital applications and plan submittals;
  • Increasing the frequency of customer focus group meetings to help identify and address customer concerns;
  • Increasing the use of pre-application conferences for plan review to help customers prepare and submit more complete plans.

The newfound interest of streamlining business permitting at Scottsdale City Hall comes following the success of a similar effort at the city of Phoenix that largely hinges on the creation of a self-certification option for qualified applicants.

Scottsdale Planning Director Randy Grant says a self-certification option will likely not be part of the Scottsdale overhaul.

“The things that we are doing here, 90 percent of it, will improve efficiency,” Vice Mayor Phillips said in a Dec. 29 phone interview. “Scottsdale is trying to cut down the time and cut the red tape.”

Vice Mayor Phillips says he wants to see changes happen in the first half of calendar year 2015.

“This doesn’t need to be a group action and a council study,” he said. “We are talking about seminars and (people) can give their input to us there.”

Streamlined process

Mr. Grant, the city’s planning director, says with any process efficiencies can be found.

“Staff has outlined some improvements — some of which are already being implemented, some which could be implemented with little or no budget impact but could require code changes, and some that would require additional resources in the budget process,” he said.

“Generally, the improvements are designed to reduce processing time for plan review and permitting, reduce the bureaucracy in obtaining approvals and utilize technology to increase efficiency.”

While Scottsdale is looking at streamlining development services, Mr. Grant says the municipality is not looking at drastically changing the application review process — something the city of Phoenix has just completed.

“Phoenix has historically had a different process for plan review and had experienced some challenges with review turnaround. The decision was made to dramatically change how plans would be reviewed,” he explained.

“Architects and engineers are allowed to self-certify some types of plans in Phoenix for building code requirements. Scottsdale’s processes (such as Development Review Board stipulations and zoning and use-permit stipulations) make the plan review process more complex than simply code compliance, and implementing self-certification in Scottsdale would require an evaluation of those processes.”

Mr. Grant says customer satisfaction is the driving force behind the examination of permit process.

“There are always exceptions, and staff follows up on those exceptions with each customer who reports concerns,” he said.

“Currently the turnaround time for plan review is 21 calendar days, which is consistent with or less than review times of other Valley cities. Staff is reviewing ways to further reduce that time frame.”

Scottsdale officials say the city is developing a smart phone and tablet APP allowing customers to instantly schedule inspections.

“As more and more software development is oriented to mobile devices, this APP could be the first in the evolution of business transactions that make the city’s processes scheduling more convenient and efficient for users,” Mr. Grant said.

Time is money

Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane says the idea of streamlining business permitting in

Jim Lane

Jim Lane

Scottsdale has been a constant charge of municipal government.

“We think overall our system has improved substantially over the years,” he said in a Dec. 29 phone interview. “We got engaged in that a bit a few years ago when Phoenix started self-certification. That is actually where it began.”

Mayor Lane says he would like the market to tell the city what it ought to be doing to improve the business permitting process at city hall.

“We haven’t gotten to that stage of organizing it and that could become part of the process to have the user evaluation,” he said.

While Mayor Lane says everything is open to review, he does not see a need for a self-certification process at the city of Scottsdale.

“One of the obstacles they (Phoenix) ran into was the extent of reduction on staff due to the self-certification process,” he said. “There wasn’t so much an issue with fees — it was in the reduction of staffing.”

Mayor Lane says a timeline has to be decided on how and what changes will ultimately be implemented, but those changes can only be successful with a united city council.

“A timeline hasn’t been set by me but I would like to see it happen in the first half of 2014,” he said.

“All of the best intentions of how staff might be refined or the process might be refined could be thwarted with a council that is in conflict,” said the mayor.

“You do need a council that is in a position to want to accommodate … business development in Scottsdale and business development in general.”

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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