County cuts building permit time

Probably by summer, process for single-family homes will take 11 days

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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Clark County has cut the time it takes to get a permit to build a single family home in half, taking turnaround from 23 days to 11 days.

The reduction in days is the result of a weeklong brainstorming session between multiple county departments and local contractors. The goal was to apply a "lean" process to the county permitting operation that reduces the amount of work while achieving the same results.

The brainstorming session, facilitated by the Washington State Auditor's office, resulted in Clark County identifying where permits typically hit snags in reviews and moving those troublesome items to the start of the application.

"We want to get the review done early so it's complete," said Marty Snell, the county's director of community development. "That way, (other parts of the review) know the work has already been done and they don't have to check on it."

Several review components, such as stormwater and plot planning, will now be conducted when developers initially apply for a permit. Snell said that will also allow for staff to assist in identifying incomplete applications, and improve customer service.

Chief Building Official Jim Muir likened the changes to pulling back a shroud of uncertainty.

"What used to be behind the curtain somewhat is now up front on the table," Muir said.

The changes will be gradually implemented over the coming months. Plans call for the new

process to be in place by this summer.

Clark County Commissioner David Madore attended a Friday meeting where the results of the work were announced. He said he was thrilled to see what county staff accomplished.

"I inherited this one, so I can't take credit for this … but it is what we want to see," Madore said.

Madore campaigned on a platform of improving the development process and cutting fees. Since his election to the board, he has said he wants to address "silly permits" the county currently requires of developers.

This process, Madore said, takes the "silly" and makes it "smart."

"I'm excited about this," Madore said. "There are two basic things we can do to make Clark County the model nationally. We can reduce time and cut fees. Make it easy, and make it free."

Madore asked during the meeting if there were plans to tackle processes for other developments. Snell said that is exactly where they are headed.

"This is our bread and butter," Snell said of the residential permits, which saw applications climb from 383 in 2011 to 689 in 2012. "But yes … maybe to commercial next. I would love to see what this looks like for land use … which is bare dirt to a subdivision."