A bill aimed at speeding up the processing of building permits will become law despite Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s lingering concerns about it.
Caldwell chose Wednesday not to veto the bill,
but said he will propose his own measures to streamline the process at his Department of Planning and Permitting.
Under Bill 64, DPP will be required to process applications for one- and two-family dwellings within 60 days of receiving them, provided they are submitted under the city’s one-time review process. The bill takes effect — without the mayor’s signature — immediately.
Meanwhile, Caldwell announced that he is introducing a series of seven initiatives. Among them:
allowing all permit applications using third-party review to be accepted
without re-checking or spot-checking; rejecting
incomplete permit applications immediately; eliminating “hand-holding” for applicants; limiting review cycles for residential and commercial projects to no more than three; hiring additional plan checkers; expanding the number of permits that can be approved online; and establishing “Malama Mondays” where plan examiners will close the walk-up counter for an entire day a week and devote the time to handling backlogged permit applications.
Speaking to reporters in front of DPP’s One Stop Permit Center at the Frank Fasi Building, Caldwell said he and other city officials
support the intent of the bill but worry about unintended consequences.
Allowing permits for smaller residential projects to jump to the front of the line could delay permits for high-rise residential or commercial buildings, he said. “There’s a lot of residential high-rises going on and … multi-family structures,” Caldwell said. “Maybe they don’t get the attention they need and they could fall further behind while we put all the attention on getting residential permits out more quickly.”
Additionally, he said,
the bill requires anyone who is rejected twice to wait 12 months before re-applying. “That’s a harsh penalty,” he said.
Despite the concerns, “we want to see how it goes,” the mayor said. “We’re willing to take the chance, we’re willing to try it because we want to see how we can improve the process.”
The bill was introduced by Council Chairman Ernie Martin and was prompted by an increasing number of complaints about delays. The Building Industry Association of Hawaii, as well
as individual builders, contractors, engineers and
architects say the time to obtain permits — sometimes a year or longer — makes it difficult to build houses efficiently, sometimes resulting in financial losses and layoffs.
BIA chief executive officer Gladys Marrone called passage of the bill “an important first step in improving an archaic permitting system.” She said BIA members are grateful to the Council for speeding passage of the bill in response to their requests.
Bruce Kim, president of Atlas Construction Co., said nationally the typical time to get a building permit is two weeks, so requiring a permit to be processed within 60 days still would leave the wait time here
the longest in the nation.
He called the bill a temporary fix for “a problem which has placed our construction industry in dire straits. The DPP has progressively delayed issuing permits to the point where now many homeowners have been waiting over a year and a half to get their permits.
Bill 64 was approved 9-0 by the Honolulu City Council Nov. 14. If Caldwell had vetoed the bill, six of the nine Council members would have been needed for an override.
“While the mayor’s concerns are noted, he failed to take responsibility for the (unreasonable) and prolonged permitting delays that homeowners, contractors and developers have had to endure, at significant costs, financially and emotionally, during his tenure,” Martin said.
Martin said he’s hopeful Caldwell’s initiatives will complement the new law.
Not everyone likes encouraging third-party reviews to speed up the process. Some who oppose the proliferation of large-scale houses, or monster houses, said most of the offending structures that were allowed were submitted by third-party reviewers.
But Caldwell said city inspectors will still be going into the field to make sure builders are abiding by the codes. “They better make sure what they’ve done is correct because when our inspectors go out into the field and they find problems, they could be issued a stop-work order, and that could have even more consequences than before when they hadn’t started work yet.”
Tonya Dale, an architect with 4D Designs, said establishing Malama Mondays could be a good change,
“if DPP plans to have more than one staff member processing payments and pickup. If they are only closing down the other desks and not providing additional personnel besides the one person currently
at the payment desk, this will not be an advantage
for those seeking to pay
for and pick up permits, which currently can take hours of waiting.”
While the mayor is
proposing hiring additional staff, two new residential plan reviewers were hired this month and are in training while two more are expected to begin training soon, DPP Customer Services Division Chief Wallace Carvalho said.
The city issues between 10,000-15,000 permits annually, Carvalho said.
Caldwell said the city
is working on other ways
to accelerate the process that aren’t ready to be announced.
Marshall Hickox, BIA
Hawaii president-elect and president of Homeworks Construction, called Wednesday’s developments a major step in the right direction. “Every builder and designer I’ve spoken to is willing to do their part to make sure our clients get their projects permitted quickly and correctly,” he said.