As anyone who works in the development industry, or for that matter, has tried to expand on an existing home can tell you, running the gauntlet of required permits in any city can be a long and complicated process. The City of Asheville’s Development Services Center at 161 South Charlotte represents an initiative across city departments to streamline that process and increase intra-departmental communication, says Robert Griffin. As the city’s Building Safety Director, Griffin also oversees the operations of the Development Services Center, often referred to as the city’s “One-Stop Shop” for permitting.
Organized through the office of the Assistant City Manager and drawing on research by the School of Government at UNC-Chapel Hill, the one-stop-shop opened in September 2009. It now houses under one roof representatives from the five City of Asheville departments that issue permits for construction: Public Works, Planning and Development, Water Engineering, Asheville Fire Department’s Fire Marshals, and Building Safety. Whether adding a deck or building a 23-story hotel, all City of Asheville building projects now go through this office.
“In the past, you had to go to each department and talk to them individually,” Griffin says. Now, he says, a check-in at the intake desk ensures that plans get before all of the eyes permitting requires.
“This system fosters better community relations with customers and facilitates better communication,” he says.
The setup also allows better communication between departments, which creates an effective atmosphere for coordination on specific individual projects as well as the city’s codes regulating permitting. It also reduces potential conflicts among departmental requirements that can create more footwork for the development customer.
“We are better positioned to come up with an equitable solution to meet everyone’s requirements,” Griffin says. “I think the customers we have worked with will tell you it’s working.”
Adding to the customer attention are two new Project Managers, positions created in the formation of the Development Services Center. The positions are designed to provide personal attention and help developers navigate the different permitting processes, including addressing any snags, from start to finish.
“I do a lot of triage for a customer if they have a problem,” says Project Manager Susannah Carver.
Currently, the Development Services Center is working to increase its technological capability to transmit and receive entire development plans electronically, a move that is being funded by a 4% technology fee on all development services. That fee was approved in 2009 by Asheville City Council to fund the tech improvements without affecting city taxpayers.
Already in place is technology that allows developers to track the status of their projects from their own computers and see what permitting stages they still need to meet.
“I’m really proud of what we’ve got going here, what we’ve accomplished and where we are going,” Griffin says.