– January 27, 2015

Business Friendly Task Force plans faster permit process

Community leader Pete Weber.Community leader Pete Weber.
The Business Friendly Fresno Task Force announced recommendations Wednesday to speed the city’s planning and permit process through better organization, an improved computer software program and greater attention given to each project.

For starters, all projects, big and small will begin with a visit to a main counter that is well marked with signage.

However, projects will be broken down to three levels, with Level 1 used for standard single-family home plans and small changes, Level 2 for change of occupancy and Level 3 for projects requiring multiple entitlements.

The new organizational plans take effect Jan. 1. The task force also plans to approach the Fresno City Council about upgrading the city’s computer software program for the planning department.

Wednesday’s meeting attracted about 50 people including Jeff Roberts, vice president of Granville Homes in Fresno. The task force plans to place a priority on infill projects and Granville Homes has been a top infill builder.

However, Granville would like more leeway in building projects outside of downtown infill areas.

But as a member of Creating Prosperity in Fresno, Granville is all for streamlining the planning and permitting process.

The task force plans to make the process of infill development easier and faster.

Pete Weber, who chairs the task force with Jennifer Clark, director of development and resource management for Fresno, said that although efforts to improve the planning and permit process have not succeeded in the past, the new effort is stronger because it features both internal and external task force members.

“We have ownership over this plan,” Weber said. “We have a plan that has staff ownership.”

Weber said he sees both willingness and enthusiasm for improving the permit process and making Fresno a business friendly city.

Weber described the current development code as a mess. “It’s 60 years old,” he said. “We need to update the development code and align it with the general plan.”

He said the city would not become the most business friendly city in the state by Jan. 2.

But Weber expects significant improvement. The city still needs to upgrade its technology, he said.

That process is expected to take more than a year.

Weber pointed out that in addition, staff would need training, cross training and leadership training to properly operate the new system. He pointed out that major layoffs during the great recession gutted many departments and led to the loss of skilled employees.

The city plans to do some rehiring as the economy improves.

He said the system would require decision-making protocols and a decision cannot be overridden by another person in another department. “People at the counter will have to make the right decision,” Weber said.

“The point of contact will be the front counter,” Clark emphasized after taking the podium. “But we will need better signage,” she said.

Also, the counter will stay open during the lunch hour from noon to 1 p.m.

Clark said that for some of the more complex project plans would go to a development review committee. A response will come from the committee within 14 days, she said.

“Communication is key to this system,” Clark added.

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