Last year, Portland’s Bureau of Development Services set itself a goal: reduce what was then a nearly 100-day wait time for new residential and commercial building permits.

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Currently, the wait time for new construction is nearly 200 days.

But a new report from the auditor’s office says the city is making progress.

A Permitting Improvement Task Force, set up last year, has made a number of recommendations to the city council, including bringing all the infrastructure bureaus together under one manager.

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That would decrease the number of bureaus that permit applicants have to interact with, says Terri Theisen, permit improvement strategy manager for the city.

“It is a wildly complex system,” says Theisen, “Customers have to interface, depending on the project, with up to seven different bureaus on one project and that’s not with the same person. They’re interfacing potentially with seven different people or multiple people within those seven different bureaus to get their project through through this complicated process.”

The city is also working on sharing data and performance metrics, new code and new fee changes which can only be introduced at certain times during the year, more consistent requirements posted online, and checklists for applicants.

In addition, the Bureau of Development Services implemented new, 15-minute virtual appointments for applicants to meet with city staff and ask questions.

The Portland Bureau of Development Service's website, where 15-minute appointments can be scheduled for permitting questions.

The Portland Bureau of Development Service's website, where 15-minute appointments can be scheduled for permitting questions.

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“If you have any questions about your permit, whether it’s zoning plan review or how to submit bills, you could set up an appointment and actually go through it before you actually fill out the documents,” says Maurice Rahming, president of O’Neill Construction, and a member of the Permitting Improvement Task Force.

Theisen thinks it’s going to take some time to truly streamline the process, but is encouraged by the changes taking shape. “Now we have a citywide effort … We’re working together as quickly and as efficiently as we possibly can,” she says.

You can listen to the whole interview with Theisen and Rahming by pressing the play arrow above.

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Audit finds flawed permit system could hamper Portland’s COVID-19 recovery

The audit found projects in need of permit approval are routinely hit with longer-than-expected wait times. According to the audit, the city has not reached its timeliness goals for initial review once in the last five years. In 2019, the city provided an on-time review for 27% of new commercial construction projects. For new residential projects, that figure was 7%.