Jeff Fish is a developer and one of the largest builders of affordable homes in Portland.
By Guest Columnist The OregonianBy Keith Skille and Jeff Fish
As Portland's mayoral and City Council campaigns have heated up, a recurring theme for the candidates has been Portland's development review process and its impact on economic development and job creation. Candidates have particularly focused on the city's Bureau of Development Services, characterizing it as unwelcoming and obstructionist to developers and builders, providing cumbersome and inconsistent services, having high fees and in general being an impediment to development.
As members of the development community and customers of BDS, we wholeheartedly disagree with these assessments of BDS. Like any organization, BDS has room for improvement. But in the past several years BDS has undergone a remarkable transformation that has resulted in a development review process that is streamlined, effective, innovative and (regarding permit fees) reasonably priced.
In response to developers' need for help in shepherding large, complex projects through the development review process, BDS created the Major Projects Group. Each large project has its own process manager, who acts as a liaison between the development team and BDS, attends project meetings and provides a single point of contact for all issues related to the project.
BDS created the Facilities Permit and Field Issuance Remodel programs to better meet customers' needs on commercial tenant improvements and residential remodels and additions. Both programs provide on-call, on-site plan review and inspection services for an hourly fee. The programs are very popular because they save building owners and contractors time and money.
Through its Information Technology Advancement Project, BDS is pursuing an online permitting and inspection system to streamline development review and make current and historical permit drawings viewable online. BDS estimates that the system will go live in the winter of 2014-15.
Developers, builders, architects and neighborhood representatives actively advise city staff on development review issues via the Development Review Advisory Committee. The DRAC gives input into the strategic planning, decision-making and budgeting of BDS and other development bureaus to help ensure that services are delivered effectively and efficiently. Over the past several years, the DRAC has endorsed BDS budget requests and fee increases because they have been consistently tied to relevant, measurable improvements in services.
In 2009, the city streamlined development review processes and improved communication between BDS and other city public works bureaus involved in development review (Transportation, Environmental Services, Water, Parks & Recreation) by moving more than 40 staff members from those bureaus into office space with BDS staff. Together with these bureaus, BDS has worked to establish predictable plan-review timelines and fees and a public appeals process.
While bashing city bureaucrats makes for good press and points with voters in a campaign season, the reality is that BDS has made significant strides in streamlining development review and working collaboratively to facilitate development. We encourage mayoral and council candidates to attend a DRAC meeting and see for themselves what we and other customers have found: BDS is responsive, flexible and an effective partner in the development process.
Keith Skille, of GBD Architects, and Jeff Fish, of Fish Construction, are members of the Development Review Advisory Committee for Portland's Bureau of Development Services.
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