City tries breakthrough 24-hour permit process

Phoenix to Approve Permits in 24-Hours

Which elected officials are the best at unleashing the job-creating abilities of small businesses? Ones who are also small-business owners. NFIB/Arizona salutes one of its own, Sal DiCiccio, pictured to the left, owner of Zenith Development of Arizona. He is also a Phoenix city councilman who just scored a big victory for the economy. Here’s the story:

Walk into Phoenix City Hall with your plans today, and walk out and start building today.

Call for inspectors before 10 p.m. today, and they’ll show up tomorrow.

Thanks to a recent reform of Phoenix’s development process, it’s now the 24-hour city for starting businesses.

A key point pushed by Phoenix Councilman Sal DiCiccio, co-chairman of the citizens’ committee that recommended the reforms, was that small businesses deserve the same “special treatment” that cities historically give an Intel or Apple when considering a new location.

Under the changes approved by the Phoenix City Council, most construction projects get a 24-hour turn-around on permit approval. The city’s new policy also requires it to make sure inspectors show up the day after they’re requested so projects don’t get held up.

“Our goal was to make Phoenix the best place in the nation in which to do business,” said DiCiccio, who with Councilman Tom Simplot co-chaired a 125-member citizen ad hoc task force that recommended the changes. “Any day of delay in getting a business going is one day extension of the recession, at least for one guy. In Phoenix, we turn it around in 24 hours.”

“Few entrepreneurs looking to launch a small business can waste six months navigating a mysterious and unpredictable government bureaucracy,” said task force member Farrell Quinlan, NFIB’s Arizona state director. “Besides speeding up the process enormously, these changes provide more predictability so our small-business job creators can have confidence in how soon they can start operating – allowing them to save money on space, financing, fees and much more.”

Tom Johnston, senior managing director of Cushman & Wakefield of Arizona, said the new efficiencies help both the local government and businesses. The city not only expands its tax base but also realizes the added revenues sooner, especially when competing with cities in other states.

“As a professional in the commercial real estate services industry, streamlining the development process for an end user or developer is extremely important as ‘time is money’ in the business world,” said Johnston, who was also a member of the task force steering committee. “Whether we are representing a small retail, industrial or office tenant or an institutional owner/developer, speed to market can mean the difference between winning or losing.”

The changes grew out of a program begun two years ago recommended by a similar task force, also chaired by DiCiccio and Simplot. That one created a self-certification registry where licensed engineers and architects who had been though some city training on codes could authorize building permits themselves.

That focus was narrow by comparison, though, applying mostly to older buildings being refurbished. The new policies include a much expanded list of functions that can be self-certified and also set those tight deadlines for city approval of plans. They include:

  • New site plans will be reviewed in five days, with only the departments of Planning, Water and Streets able to reject
  • Electronic Plan Review — Implementation June 2013
  • Expedited Site Plan Review – No new site plan review is required if the project conforms within 90 percent of current plan. Example: If the project is 100,000 square feet, the applicant could move 10,000 square feet within the project without triggering a new site plan review
  • An expanded list of uses that get 24-hour site plan review. Example: Any new development within an existing approved site plan for a commercial project would not need a new review. Also added was the ability to combine the re-zoning process of a property with site plan review
  • Expansion of Self-Certification Program – All tenant improvement projects eligible for self-certification, including:
    * Institutional occupancies
    * Restaurants over 300 persons
    * High-rises over 75 feet
    * All adaptive reuse
    * Historic preservation
  • Civil engineering self-certification expanded:
    * Industrial to 80 acres
    * Single-family residential to 160 acres
    * Commercial, office and multi-family to 20 acres
    * Non-hazardous storage will to 30 acres.

“Getting permits quickly to do construction and improvements saves time and money. We also have greater predictability, so they will know when to lease, when they can build, when they should hire employees,” DiCiccio said.

“Unpredictability not only costs them time, money and market share, it also discourages some would-be entrepreneurs from even starting. When you’re a small business trying to build your dream on savings and credit cards, months-long hold-ups can be devastating. We’ve ended that.”

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