Steamboat Springs City and county officials agreed Wednesday that a sluggish construction industry might present the best opportunity to streamline a building permit process that often leaves contractors and do-it-yourselfers waiting weeks to hear the word “go.”
Steamboat Springs and Routt County are in the midst of the worst building season of this century, and City Councilman Bart Kounovsky thinks that only makes it more important to boost the technology of the building department shared by the city and county.
Even at a time when declining revenue has the Routt County Regional Building Department dipping into reserves to run a stripped-down department, Kounovsky advocated using some of those reserves to upgrade the department in anticipation of a future construction rebound.
“It’s something we need to push,” Kounovsky told the Building Department Oversight Committee on Wednesday. “I’m not afraid to take a look at it now with a break-even budget for 2012, and tap into some of those reserves.”
Chief Building Department Official Carl Dunham told the committee that Steamboat and Routt County has seen just 18 permits for new single-family homes through July.
Historical records for the first six months of the year show that single-family home permits in the city and county peaked at 100 in 2005 and reached 83 in 2006 and 88 in 2007.
Dunham doesn’t see a problem with his department’s current permitting system but acknowledged it might be time to modernize. Dunham cautioned the group that the base price for Web-based software that allows government officials, owners and contractors to work simultaneously on building plans is $500,000. He’s not convinced the investment will pay off with reduced plan review times.
Plan review is a process that takes place after a building permit application is submitted. Before a permit can be issued, county officials as well as seven city departments (for projects in Steamboat Springs) study the plans to ensure they address key portions of the building code and match up with approval given by their respective planning departments. The various officials sign-off on the plans.
Kounovsky wants the building department to adopt a system that allows the plans to be reviewed simultaneously instead of department by department.
County Manager Tom Sullivan said the software might help address the single biggest cause of delayed building permits — the high number of applications, even from professionals, that are incomplete when first submitted.
“They have to go back to architects or engineers and the contractor has to work with those people to get them back in their schedule,” Sullivan said. “Most of the complaints I get aren’t from contractors but from the owners (clients).”
City Public Works Director Phil Shelton said the owners, who hold the bank note on the construction project, are apt to be the most anxious player in the process. Sullivan agreed that sometimes the clients aren’t aware of why a permit application is returned to a contractor.
The committee, which on Wednesday was missing members including County Commissioner Doug Monger and members of the construction community, asked Shelton to task a users group he leads comprising members of the building industry to explore software packages that could speed up the city/county building process so government will be ready for a rebound, if or when it comes.
— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com