Opinion: Town Needs a Better Permitting Process

 

An opinion by Hal Goodtree, Publisher of CaryCitizen.com

Cary, NC – For many months, I’ve heard about problems with permitting and inspections related to opening a business in Cary. In particular, many small businesses have complained to me about a lengthy, expensive and not always responsive process.

Last week, those concerns boiled over at a Heart of Cary Association meeting. Council Members and Town staff in attendance got an earful.

The Problem

Based on interviews with business owners, Town Council Members and Town Manager Ben Shivar, here’s how I understand the problem:

Too Many Touch-Points

The permitting and inspection process involves many different departments. Business owners don’t always know who to call or whose advice to follow. Scheduling the necessary inspections with so many touch-points too often proves a drawn-out process.

Small Business Suffers

Small companies in particular seemed frustrated with permitting and inspections. The boss of a small biz wears many hats and has neither the bandwidth nor expertise when compared with the staff at a large corporation.

Fear of Retribution

Many business owners experienced a less-than-congenial relationship with Town staff. They did not always feel that their concerns were treated with any urgency. Many would not comment by name in this article out of fear – rational, or not – of retribution from Town staff.

The Solution

Ben Shivar

I sent an earlier draft of this opinion to Council Members and staff who were at the Heart of Cary event. Town Manager Ben Shivar called me right away to express his concern about the situation. “We’ve got to do a better job coordinating and having a more business-friendly attitude,” Shivar said.

He also expressed a little regret that business owners, by-and-large, had not contacted him if they had problems.

“I wish they’d come talk to me,” Shivar said. “We want to remove barriers and make people feel like they can come to us.”

You can email him at ben.shivar@townofcary.org.

Attitude Adjustment

Everyone needs to feel their concerns are important to Town staff. This is a change that costs nothing but requires a renewed commitment to service.

Rules & Regs Reform

Ben suggested we may need a different set of rules for retrofit than we have for new development. This may particularly be the case with properties downtown. However, changes to rules and regulations generally take months or years (a process in itself).

My opinion: we need to fast-track this process, especially with a new Downtown Manager (Ed Gawf) on the job.

Feedback Mechanism

I suggested to Ben that business owners should be surveyed to judge their satisfaction at the end of permitting and inspections. CaryCitizen has done a number of surveys of consumer sentiment including one following the 2010 Scavenger Hunt and a recent survey on a $10,000 tax credit for new construction.

Given the intimidation-factor (see Fear of Retribution above), it’s probably best if the Town uses a third party to survey business owners.

Small Business Committee?

Finally, Ben aired the idea that a small business committee might be a helpful avenue to collect information and formulate recommendations.

Action Plan

We all agree: the permitting and inspection process in Cary needs to be improved.

Immediate Improvements

  1. Cultural changes in how staff treats customers
  2. Feedback mechanism via online survey

Mid-term Actions

  1. Fast-track consideration of rules and regs changes for retrofits, redevelopment and downtown
  2. Small business committee to study and recommend in a matter of weeks

Conclusion: Bullish on Cary

I’m optimistic. The immediacy of the response from council members and the town manager communicates to me their desire to fix the problem.

Next time I write about this subject, I look forward to a story of good news.

“Permitting and Inspections Have Never Been So Painless” would make a great headline.

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1 reply
  1. Leslie Huffman
    Leslie Huffman says:

    Great story Hal. You gave a voice to many frustrated folks. And hopefully this voice will help change thing.

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