The town’s staff is doing a better job communicating with homebuilders and approving more projects in less time, say planners and association officials.
The town has worked closely with its Board of Adjustment, Realtors and the Home Builders Association of Durham, Orange and Chatham Counties to improve its permitting processes, said Mary Jane Nirdlinger, the town’s executive director of planning and community development.
The efforts are beginning to pay off, she said, with 57 percent of zoning compliance permits approved within five days and 98 percent within 10 days.
That’s compared to 43 percent of permits approved within 10 days last year, she said. Another 29 percent took 30 days, and 15 percent took longer.
“It has been really interesting to switch performance measures and data, because it has helped us understand when things were in our hands and when they’re not,” Nirdlinger said. “Before, when we were measuring things, it was time you submitted to the time you got your permit, so if somebody had it in their hands for a month, then that was counted against the clock ticking.
“It’s really helping us understand when we’re the problem or when there’s communication or standards that are getting in the way,” she said.
They plan to continue the talks on a monthly basis, she said. Continued work, said Holly Fraccaro, HBA executive director, could create a model that other communities will want to adopt.
“I want to applaud the efforts of the staff,” Fraccaro said. “I also want to caution any of us from assuming we have reached the finish line. The true test will be when the construction season is in full swing.”
The homebuilders association petitioned the Town Council last April for relief from a home construction and remodeling process that they said took three times as long and cost three times as much as working in other jurisdictions.
The town’s planning and inspections department has instituted a number of changes since then, Nirdlinger said, including more review and inspections staff, and mobile and text applications that let them work and communicate with builders more efficiently.
They’re also tracking applications, providing more information about the town’s processes, and offering new, streamlined application forms and expedited approvals, she said.
A well-rounded staff will be important when several big projects start up, including Obey Creek and the Glen Lennox redevelopment, Nirdlinger said. The plan is to keep larger projects on a schedule.
Staff has recommended additional changes, including simpler height and utility requirements for homes, that the council could consider March 21.
It’s a start, Fraccaro said, but the town should consider a complete overhaul, particularly to address “exorbitant permitting fees.”
Nirdlinger noted that recent state changes have increased the cost at which a homeowner must get a building permit to $15,000. That eliminates the permitting cost for a lot of minor home projects, she said.