David Heiblim launched several Este Pizzerias and recently opened The Dispensary at 54 West 1700 South. The Dispensary is a unique restaurant that relies on locally produced ingredients and treats food as medicine.
But getting a permit can be tricky for a homeowner or even a veteran business owner. Heiblim faced some setbacks getting some permits resolved for The Dispensary. “The permitting process was smooth but there was some confusion about what needed to be done,” he said.
The restaurant owner worked with staff members to find a reasonable solution to get the permits. “I like the direction the mayor is going,” said Heiblim. “Salt Lake City is set up for business owners. Every time I go into the office they are very friendly and always helpful.”
Salt Lake City has cut the time to get a permit review by nearly one-half—lowering the average wait time from 114 days in fiscal year 2015 to 59 days in FY 2017. While running for office, Mayor Jackie Biskupski had heard complaints about getting permits in Salt Lake City and made improving the permit process a priority once she started.
“When businesses want to invest in Salt Lake City, we don’t want to get in the way,” said Mayor Biskupski. “We are working hard on economic development because it provides jobs and opportunities for everyone.”
The mayor asked Building and Licensing Services Director Orion Goff what could be done to improve Salt Lake City’s reputation for permits. “I told the mayor we need additional full-time plan examiners to serve walk-in customers when they come in to get permits,” said Goff. “The mayor trusting my opinion about the need for new employees is huge. She is the first mayor to give me additional staff.”
Goff concluded that three things have helped get permits approved quicker:
- The two additional full-time plans examiners at the permit counters make more likely to get many permits approved in one day.
- The city’s software was modified so permits needed from six different departments can be processed concurrently. This means one permit doesn’t need to be done before another one can get started. Plus, all six departments and the applicant can communicate in the same place online.
- A liaison has also been added to shepherd business owners and troubleshoot problems so they can open for business as soon as possible.
“Each project is unique, but our goal is to get customers their permits as quickly as possible, even with the complexity of city codes and ordinances,” said Goff. “Our online process and electronic plan review process has become a model that other cities across the country are trying to adopt.”
Building Services and Economic Development Liaison George Ott said most permit problems occur when a building is being used differently than it was before. “This is when the existing building code clashes with a building that may have been built before those codes were adopted,” said Ott. “Many times, a new business signs a lease to a property without knowing what codes need to be brought into compliance.”
Ott offers these suggestions for business owners about to go through the permit process:
1) Ask the right questions to find out what permits are needed.
2) Research design professionals to help produce construction documents needed for the permit application and getting it issued.
Goff said many improvements have been made but more needs to be done to help people seeking permits. Another upgrade of the electronic plan review will take place this summer. “Anything you can do to improve customer service makes a big difference,” he said.