Department of I'll Believe it when I see it

If all goes as planned, we'll experience the 'new', 'improved' permit department ourselves, and then we'll see how much it's changed....

For years, critics have contended that getting a permit for a construction project out of Chicago City Hall has been like running a marathon through a tar pit--never easy and never fast.

Now, acknowledging that more must be done to speed up the permit pipeline, Daley administration officials said they are implementing a new round of changes to reduce approval time roughly in half for most new projects.

Review of plans for smaller residential developments is being expedited, and new internal efficiencies are being adopted even as the city considers possible privatization of part of the operation, said Rafael Hernandez, executive director of the Department of Construction and Permits.


Outside of City Hall, however, performance has received mixed reviews at best.

“Right now, if you submit a plan, there are project managers who say, `Don't even call me for two months'--nothing is going to get started for two months,” said one unhappy construction-industry executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Promises of 15-day permit reviews that were made when the Permits Department was formed “is the biggest joke,” he scoffed.

Alan Lev, president of the Belgravia Group, a major Chicago developer, described performance as “spotty.”
The problem of timely permit review surfaced publicly at a recent City Council committee meeting at which city Budget Director John Harris acknowledged “some challenge.”

He released a report that revealed it was taking 110 days--nearly 16 weeks--to issue a permit. And that's on top of a two-or three-week wait for an appointment to submit plans, the first step in the process.

The new goal is to reduce the approval time to 50 days.

Since Harris' report was compiled, the typical approval time has declined to about 90 days and the 50-day goal probably will be reached within four months, Hernandez said.

Under one change, review of plans for single-family homes and apartment and condo projects with up to three units will get expedited attention, he said. That category represents a large portion of the 8,800 applications for new construction annually.

“Smaller projects [require] much less review than other ones,” Hernandez said. “I don't believe it is fair that if you are building your house [to be] stuck behind this other guy building an eight-story building.”


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This page contains a single entry by Seth A. published on May 16, 2005 8:07 AM.

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