June 26, 2013

Portland stuck in its own permitting quagmire

Efforts to speed Portland's process, including studies, have little effect, with approvals taking up to 148 days and complaints rolling in.

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

"I would say the city of Portland is notorious for being the slowest municipality in issuing building permits," said Drew Sigfridson, president of the Maine Real Estate and Development Association.

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A study by the Government Consulting Group cost the city $10,000. It recommends:

n Simplifying the city's zoning regulations.

n Providing easier access to information online.

n Expediting reviews for projects being done by licensed professionals.

n Working with homeowners on compliance at the start of the process, rather than requiring multiple revisions.

The report says Portland may be understaffed, but that assessment cannot be made until streamlining measures are taken.

The Press Herald filed a Freedom of Access Act request on June 4 for the two studies, and the city's database of wait times for permits. The city responded on June 5 by posting the studies on its website.

It provided the requested details about wait times for permits issued in 2013 on Monday, two days before officials planned to issue a news release about additional changes to the program designed to speed up permit processing.

City spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said it was a coincidence that the city posted the studies online the day after the newspaper requested them. It also was a coincidence that the requested data on wait times was provided after the city prepared an announcement about improvements to the permitting process, she said.

Levine said the wait times listed in the city's report do not include Planning Board reviews, but may include Zoning Board of Appeals hearings.

According to city data, the average wait for commercial permits ranges from 43 to 70 days. It took about 70 days, on average, to get a permit to add onto a business and an average of 55 days to amend a commercial building permit.

It took more than 43 days, on average, to get a permit to alter a commercial structure and 45 days, on average, to get a change-of-use permit.

One commercial permit, for an addition, took the city 148 days to issue, partly because it needed a historical review. Another permit for a commercial addition took 141 days, partly because of a 124-day review by the fire department to ensure that it met fire codes.

Homeowners also face delays when they try to alter their homes. The average wait for such a permit is 29 days, and the average wait for a permit to build an addition is 67 days.

City Councilor Edward Suslovic said this month that fixing the permitting process should be a priority, because when construction is done -- whether it's a deck or a multimillion-dollar project -- it brings revenue to the city.

"It's one of the ways we increase taxable value in the city," Suslovic said. "This is an issue that can't afford to wait."

 

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

rbillings@pressherald.com

Twitter: @randybillings

 

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