The head of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce says she’s hopeful that efforts underway to improve efficiency in the city Development Services Department will make it easier for developers to get their projects built.
Kit Cramer serves on the Development Customer Advisory Group, which was created to provide input for improving the department. The committee held its second meeting Tuesday, Nov. 10.
Developers have long complained about the time and effort it takes to get permits approved for projects in Asheville. Department officials have said they’ve been hampered by a boom in development and a serious shortage of qualified employees.
“I’m really pleased that we’re making efforts to improve the development process and make it easier for people to get buildings built,” says Cramer, the chamber’s president and CEO. “I think the staff is making an all-out effort for it, and that’s wonderful.”
Cramer says she’s often heard complaints about the city’s permitting department. However, she adds, “I’ve never worked anyplace where there hasn’t been a cry for more efficiency in the permitting process. We’re facing a lot of growth right now. I think people especially feel it because there is such demand at the moment. We want to see developers be able to get more housing built so we can bring housing costs down. So I’m really pleased that the city has created this committee that I’ve been asked to serve on and give feedback, because I hear from developers a lot.”
Jason Nortz, assistant director of the Development Services Department, says the department last week rolled out an electronic sign-in system to better track the experiences of customers and measure how long it takes to provide them the services they need. Customers now sign in at the department’s offices on South Charlotte Street using an iPad. Before, they used pen and paper.
“It’s really improved our customer flow,” says Chris Collins, site division manager. “So far, it’s gone well. Each facilitator is looking at this in real time. We’re looking to find out what the customer experience is like and how much time they’re spending at the counter.”
Nortz says the “E-Clipboard System” will provide valuable information for improving efficiency. “We can easily track wait times in terms of when they check in and who they are there to see,” he says. “It’s all digital and online. Our staff can access it from their desktops. It allows us to track our metrics better. We can benchmark a wait time. In the past, we just had a sign-in sheet. We weren’t actually tracking when they were done seeing somebody. We can go back and see the reasons for people’s visits.”
Cramer calls the system a “major step forward.” She says,“It will provide baseline information. They can then begin to analyze that data and see where the most time is being spent, where they could perhaps create efficiencies and establish benchmark data to measure against to improve their processes. You always want to start from a position of knowledge and this will provide some good baseline knowledge.”
Nortz says the department is almost up to full strength in staffing. Two vacancies in building and safety plan review have been filled. The new workers start in late November or early December, he says.
The city also has hired a new director of the Development Services Department. Wayne Clark starts the job on Nov. 23. He currently is community development director in the city of Port Orange, Florida. Asheville City Manager Gary Jackson says Clark has a proven track record in streamlining plan review, permitting and inspection services. “He also understands how an efficient and effective development-review process hastens the creation of jobs, housing and sustainable development,” Jackson says.