Portland is seeing an unprecedented level of development. All over the peninsula, new buildings are going up and existing ones are being renovated. Off the peninsula, people are adding to their homes and investing in their quality of life.

In 2014, we issued more than 2,700 building permits, at a total investment value of more than $120 million. These permits mean additional tax base to fund city schools, public works and programs.

This is all great news for not only the city, but also the region and the entire state of Maine. There are so many cities around the country that are still suffering from disinvestment and the effects of the recession.

The interest in development is not entirely by chance. While demographic changes and Americans’ interest in what Portland has to offer have helped, thoughtful policies and planning have also contributed to this opportunity. Guided by city planning efforts, Portland has promoted high-quality infill development, providing a vision for districts and city support for developments that help realize that vision.

We continue to make Portland a good place to invest, especially in the kind of mixed-use urban development that makes cities thrive. In the past year, the City Council approved new zoning language to encourage urban infill development along commercial and transit corridors, such as Forest Avenue. Staff has conducted an audit of the neighborhood business zones to make it easier to run small, locally based businesses. Currently, the Planning Board is reviewing changes to the residential zones on the peninsula to bring clarity and consistency to how developments take place.

Rather than developers having a parcel rezoned – or take advantage of some fine print in the zoning – the goal is to make it easier to build the kinds of homes that we all like in Portland. Ultimately, the goal is to make it possible to build a traditional triple-decker without going through a lengthy approval process.

These changes don’t just benefit new development. Zoning changes also benefit owners of existing homes by making it easier for them to add on to the structures. Decks and porches are good for urban vitality and should be encouraged, not prohibited.

We have also worked to make the permitting process clear, predictable and transparent. In revising the zoning ordinance, another goal has been to eliminate unnecessary or confusing text. While we have a long way to go, we have already removed pages and pages of text from the land use code.

Review efficiency is also important to developers, and to us. There are three new hotels complete or almost complete on the peninsula, and a fourth that has gone through a comprehensive rebranding and renovation. For those four hotels, the average review time before the city’s Planning Board was less than 90 days. Very few cities with complex development sites such as these can compete with that review time.

The growth in the housing market is great. We now need to focus on what kind of housing is being produced and how it compares to the needs of Portland residents and our city plans. Working with the Greater Portland Council of Governments, we have prepared a report that does much of this analysis, and will be recommending policy initiatives in the near future.

At the same time, the city’s Planning Board ensures that residents and other stakeholders have a chance to express their thoughts about these important developments in a public setting. Transparency is as important as speed.

Continual improvement is part of how we do business. We have made changes to our development review and permitting processes, and will continue to make improvements.

Anyone interested in doing development in Portland, from a new front porch to a new office building, can sign up online for a pre-application meeting and discuss their ideas with relevant city staff. These meetings are held weekly on Wednesdays and are first-come, first-served.

Applying for a building permit has entered the digital age, with online payments accepted and an entirely online application process being tested for rollout later this year. Once someone has applied for a building permit, they can go online and see the status of the permit and any comments made on the application.

With more than 500 units of housing permitted in the past two years, and half of that either under construction or complete, the city will continue to grow and thrive. We welcome interest from developers, both local and national, and look forward to continuing to work with those interested in investing in making Portland an even better place.