Permits so far this year valued at $122 million

By Carolyn Sackariason, Aug. 19, 2008, Aspen Times


ASPEN — Development in Aspen has fallen by 21 percent so far this year compared to 2007, a city official said Monday.

Building permit applications issued for the year since Aug. 18, 2007 equate to $122 million worth of activity, compared to $148 million at this time in 2007. That’s a little more than $816,000 a day in development applications, compared to about $988,000 in 2007, according to Johannah Richards, administrative manager in the city’s community development department.

So far this year, there have been 129 commercial and 301 residential applications filed. Last year, there were 162 commercial and 377 residential applications, Richards said. Revenue for the city department is down 27 percent as a result, she added.

Those numbers represent a nominal slowdown and resemble building activity experienced in 2005 and 2006, officials said. It’s unknown whether there will be a surge in development applications toward the end of the year like there was in 2007, officials recognized.

“We’re trending down precipitously,” said Aspen City Councilman Dwayne Romero.

Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland noted that building activity in a town the size of Aspen is still considerable.

“It’s still a lot of permit activity for a town of 6,500 [people],” he said.

Richards’ information came at the end of a presentation made to the City Council on how the community development department has taken strides to reduce the amount of time it takes to get a building permit issued.

Aspen Community Development Director Chris Bendon said much progress has been made to reduce the red tape coming out of the building department.

Simple building permits now take two weeks to issue as opposed to the four weeks it took earlier this year. It’s hoped that time will be halved again. Simple permits involve small residential remodels and projects.

Complex building permits take an average of 22 weeks to issue, compared to the 26 weeks it took earlier this year, Bendon said.

Complex permits involve additional square footage, require multiple referrals from city and county agencies, or involve a change in use. It’s hoped the wait time to issue that type of permit is reduced to 13 weeks by the end of the year.

Staff numbers in the building depart­ment have been beefed up, and man­agement has been reorganized to improve customer service in the office and out in the field. The community development department and the building department also have out­sourced some of the review work to an independent contractor.

The building department, which used to be located on the third floor of City Hall, earlier this year moved to 517 E. Hopkins Ave. so staff has more space to work. Before, staff was located in different places, often times in separate buildings, which hurt efficiency.

The department also is requiring better plans and more information from contractors on the front end.

Being proactive with applicants includes monthly meetings with building officials and contractors that focus on complicated issues and problem areas that slow down the process without the right information.

The process of getting sign-offs from referral agencies like environmental health also has been shortened.

When contractors want to submit their plans, they now schedule an appointment, which forces them to come prepared. Before, it was first-come, first-served. As a result, contractors would line up in the cramped space in City Hall and battle it out.

The building department now places ads in the newspaper letting people know how long the wait time is.

When the building department “got in the hole” with permit delays a couple of years ago, there were other contributing factors beyond the internal organization — the times reflected a robust economy, further exacerbating the delays.

While the City Council was considering a moratorium on commercial development a couple of years ago, developers were racing to the building department to get their plans approved.

The building department’s volume increased 500 percent, officials said.