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City of Seattle

June 16, 10:24 AM click here to comment > 1

Helping builders create jobs by reducing permitting wait times

On my way to City Hall this week, I saw a welcome sight — workers in hard hats on construction projects. It’s been a while since we’ve seen that. Workers are on Dexter Avenue repaving the street, at 901 Dexter working on a new building, just two examples among many of how Seattle is putting people back to work.

These are encouraging signs our local economy is starting to recover. Construction projects that had been stalled by the recession and the credit crunch are getting back under way. A previously approved permit for 901 Dexter is being revised to include 284 units of housing. On First Hill, workers broke ground at the end of April at 1200 Madison on 237 market rate units with 7,000 square feet of retail. 514 East Pine is finally under construction on 108 units and 12,000 square feet of retail. West Seattle’s Safeway at Admiral project for 78 units and 60,000 square feet of retail broke ground at the end of 2010.


Construction work at 6th and Lenora

And some of the “holes” in the ground are starting to get filled in. At the corner of Stone Way and North 40th Street, where a hole had sat empty for nearly a decade, work began in January on 155 units of housing with 17,000 square feet of retail. In Greenlake, the old Vitamilk dairy site should see construction on a new PCC store and housing by the end of the year.

City government can do more to help. In my Jobs Plan I committed to fostering a business climate and environment where all businesses can thrive. That includes doing what we can to encourage construction. Every building project gets skilled workers off the bench and back on the field. These are high quality local jobs at a family wage — the kind of jobs that are a cornerstone of shared prosperity in Seattle. Each job site that’s building 100 units or more employs between 35 and 60 workers.

We had a problem, however: we had fallen behind in processing permits. Permit intake staffing at the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) is funded by permit fees. When the economy crashed in 2008, fewer permits were pulled and DPD had to lay off nearly 150 staff over two years. That has taken a toll on builders who are trying to get their projects unfrozen. At the Master Builders’ annual dinner on May 5, they told me it was taking up to 9 weeks to get an intake meeting. That was unacceptable.

I convened my staff and said we had to do better. And they responded. Today, if you call DPD for a construction permit, we can schedule an intake appointment within two weeks. 26 appointment slots are available over the coming three week period.

How did we do it? DPD had been making some adjustments, adding more in-person and extra electronic plan appointments, but we had to do more. Within a few days, DPD reported back to me on their plan to add more appointment times by revising some intake processes, bringing back a former employee as a temporary hire, and shifting resources around to meet greatest demand. These revisions took a little time to implement, but a month later, we have gotten those appointments down to our target of two weeks.

Dexter paving May 4th, 2011 10:15 am
Seattle Department of Transportation crew lays new pavement on Dexter Avenue

Most of this discussion is about buildings, but local street work also creates good jobs. The work on Dexter Avenue creates 32 direct jobs. In fact, dollar for dollar, investments in local streets create more jobs than major highway projects. We can get more of our local dollars into our streets. How will we do that? Stay tuned.

Photos by: Ethan Raup (first) and Seattle Department of Transportation (second)

Posted by: Mayor Mike McGinn

Comments

Comment from Julie Currier
Time June 28, 2011 at 10:11 pm

Mayor,

Thanks for helping however there are still 2 bottle necks in the permit processes; 1) energy code reviewing is a problem for both new construction and remodel and 2) SDOT processes. SDOT and DPD do not coordinate well and the new SDOT process of requiring SIP approval prior to permit intake is a problem when there are very limited appointments. I understand the SDOT budget took a huge beating recently which will only make matters worse. It is great to see progress but don’t stop at DPD appointments!