Published on December 16th, 2015 |2
New commissioner overhauling Planning & Community Development
Keane, who came to Atlanta from Charleston, South Carolina, told the Buckhead Community Improvement District board Tuesday (Dec. 15) the city’s Buildings Department is his top priority and he has hired BKD consultants to rework and implement a new business of permitting by May 1.
He also is contracting a private company to supplement the work being done in the department. The contract pros stay with the city for 12 months but they can be extended, he told the BCID board, which is made up almost entirely of developers.
The day he started on the job was the day a major audit of the Buildings Department was released pointing out a large number of internal problems. Keane said the culture needs to be changed in the first half of next year.
“My sense is the frustration level cannot get higher,” Keane said. “Presently there are management issues and capacity issues….not enough people to handle the work.”
By May, Keane plans to implement a new business of permitting by the city….create a new business method that is consistent and predictable. That may involve raising the $2,500 fee at the level where a permit is required, improving the self-checkout line and the Express Lane and creating way of measuring department’s performance—time required for each process.
BKD also has a cost analysis study going on to determine what permits should cost.
Getting a permit has involved a 10-day review process, which often has turned into simply a matter of the staff presenting questions to the developer by the end of 10 days which the developer then has to answer for a further review that could take up to a month of more.
In Charleston, Keane created a Permit Center, where all the people involved in the permitting process were centered in one location—including streets, water meters, the fire department, etc. He said he wants to make the Building Department’s “welcome center” more like a retail experience, beefing it up with more resources and people.
“The ultimate goal is to have people all in the same place, but at least to begin with people knowledgeable about all aspects of the permitting process,”
Keane explained. “Begin working toward it becoming a center of excellence for the city.”
Dist. 7 City Councilman Howard Shook, who sits as a member of the BCID board, told Keane, “You can be Houdini, but if the other commissioners don’t get on board it won’t work. That is commissioner to commissioner and City Council cannot help you with that,” he added.
The other priority is to have the Planning Department actually plan—“having input early on as to how we want the city to grow,” Keane told the BCID board.
“Right now we are in a very reactive mode to developers. That is not a good place for the Planning Department to be,” Keane said. “Let’s go ahead and decide what the city is going to look like. Then we need to change the zoning ordinance to make that work.”
Keane pointed out that Mecklinburg County in North Carolina (Charlotte) is basically paperless in handling planning and zoning requests. “Out problems are much more basic than that….like answer the phone,” he said.
As an example, Keane said the number customers call for inspections was not working for quite a long time, “so now people will not call that number,” he added.
“To right-size the regulatory environment is a major undertaking,” Keane stated. “We don’t want to add to the volume of regulations.” He said his goal is to put the tree ordinance into one page.
Keane talked briefly about his Big City Design Project. “Want to be very aggressive about growth of the city. How do we incorporate density into how we want the city to grow? How does transit work into that? We want a lot of public input into that,” he said.
“What is the lifestyle of the city? How do we want to live?” Keane asked as he concluded his introduction to the BCID board.
Board member Scott Selig, vice president of Selig Enterprises and chair of an advisory committee that is working with Keane and his department, said there is $40 million in the Enterprise Fund to accomplish these initiatives.
“The former commissioner blocked many initiatives so the fund continued to grow,” Selig said. “Now we have a commissioner who wants to take on the initiatives and does want change.”