The time it takes to get a building permit from Kitsap County’s Department of Community Development has shortened compared to the days before the Great Recession, but strides in inspection times are needed, according to the Home Builders Association of Kitsap County.
Members of the HBA say on the whole, permitting times with the DCD have decreased with over-the-counter forms and departmental efficiency audits instituted recently.
Data supplied by the DCD show an overall reduction in permit turnaround time, the time from when a builder turns in an application for permit to the time the permit is returned giving a green light to the project. In 2006, 33 percent of all permits were approved within seven days, and 84 percent were approved within 60 days. In 2011, 43 percent of permits were approved within seven days and 93 percent were approved within 60 days.
Home Builders Association Boardmember and Kitsap County Commissioner Dist. 2 Candidate Lary Coppola criticized permitting times at a recent Kitsap County Commissioner Candidate’s forum, saying that permitting times are too slow. As commissioner, he would strive to further improve them.
Incumbent Kitsap County Commissioner Dist. 2 Charlotte Garrido responded to Coppola’s critique and said the county is no longer slow with permitting.
Coppola said the city of Port Orchard could process a permit in 30 days, when it would sometimes take the county months. He also said the bureaucracy of the county permitting office could stand drastic improvement. Calling the permitting office with even a simple question can be a testy experience, he said.
“It’s the kind of thing that anyone who works here has to answer that question,” Coppola said.
Teresa Osinski, Executive Vice President of the Homebuilders Association, said in recent years the department has gone through a “major transformation” of attitudes that have helped contractors and builders get the permits necessary to complete a home, receive a site development perit, or have a home approved by the fire marshal.
But work within DCD can still go a ways in helping builders on the ground.
“Is it perfect?” Osinski said. “No. Has it improved? Yes.”
The number of overall permit requests have dropped from 2,612 to 1,967 over that time. But, according to DCD’s Director Larry Keeton, DCD’s staff has been chopped in half during the same time period. In 2006, DCD employed 87 full-time employees. In 2011, DCD employed 44 full-time employees, a 46 percent reduction in overall work force.
“When the county talks about the amount of people the county has laid off, the bulk of them came from DCD,” Keeton said.
The reduction in staff also included a cut from four full-time plan reviewers, down to 1.5 now, Keeton said.
Since 2006, the county has reduced employees’ hours to 34 per week, something that doesn’t relate to the seven- and 60-day turnaround that the county factors in, Keeton said. Still, the idea that DCD is the same as it was before Keeton came on board in mid-2006 is something he hears often.
“I heard the same thing, you can’t get a permit out of DCD if you die,” he said.
Recently, the department instituted an over-the-counter application for deck additions, wall tear-downs and other, simple remodeling projects that in the past would have required full-permit approval, Keeton said.
The department also underwent an efficiency LEAN audit that included a weeklong reorganization process and input from Home Builder’s Association Board Member, such as Jim Way of Pristine Homes.
“They hired a firm that came in and we basically put an audit to all of their systems,” Way said.
A builder in Kitsap County for more than 10 years, Way said the previously embattled department is “moving in the right direction.” A move toward electronic permitting, and a reduction in turnaround time for single family home permits have helped the building community, he said. So too has the LEAN efficiency audit.
Robert Baglio, the First Vice President of the Home Builders Association, agreed that building permits are processed quicker than before. While some will always grumble at permitting time or bureaucratic holdups, Baglio
said most of the builders are noticing a difference.
“When efforts are being made to improve the process, builders recognize it’s a good thing,” Baglio said.
If there is one aspect of DCD that could stand further improvement, it’s the time it takes to get a plumbing electrical or final inspection by the county, he said. Often times, inspection times will be pushed back a day or two, hampering the building process.
Osinski agreed that inspection times were the largest problem with DCD. She said homebuilders often lose money waiting for inspections, which in turn relates to lost revenue in the county. She blamed a poor scheduling process.
“They (inspectors) are the lynch pin,” she said. “If that’s not working efficiently, then there are problems.”
But she didn’t want the “significant” problems of inspection time to take away from the strides DCD has made with permitting. She said expedited deck permits and other efficiencies put in place by Keeton have been a big help.
“The county and specifically DCD understands that they are providing a service to a customer,” she said. “Even if we’re regulated to go through DCD, we’re still a customer.”
Osinski said she anticipates Keeton and the county to continue to work with homebuilders to work out further kinks.
“The county understands that HBA is knowledgable as a construction industry, and will continue to work for education and outreach,” Osinski said.