Tampa Committee produces its report on how to make the city more business-friendly

Steve Cona is with Associated Builders and Contractors, a group that represents those industries from Gainesville to Naples. He called the current permitting process in Tampa "outdated," and said streamlining was crucial.

Jennifer Doefel with the Tampa Bay Builders Association agreed, and said putting a new software system in place was always her number one issue.

She said the reason why there are currently so many regulations in the city's code was to deal with the exceptions and not the norm. "The mayor is trying to make sure that in the things that are implemented we're tailoring to the rule and not the exception, " she said, adding that not everything is going to radically change.

"Things don't make sense, will still not make sense," she said, referring to a developer trying to build a restaurant in a residential area.

Debra Koehler with Sage Partners said the committee took a "holistic approach" to working through the process. She said the end goal was to make Tampa more competitive with other cities, and because of the recommendations, "We are now."

Some of the changes will be made administratively, others will need to be done by vote of the City Council.

Councilmember Lisa Montelione was the only elected official on the 18-member committee. As somebody who has worked in the construction business for years, she said she knew first hand the problems the city had.

"One of the first things I did when I had my first briefing with the Zoning Adminstrator was to say, 'We need to change the codes,'" Montelione recounted on Tuesday. "I met with Julia Cole and Catherine Coyle [city staff members] and they looked at me and said, 'Which ones?' I said, 'All of them.'"

The Councilwoman said she considered it "a nightmare to try to figure out what process you had to go through to get a permit, or what the first step was or what ordinances would come into play, because they were scattered throughout the whole code."

Here's a breakdown of what the committee determined on some key aspects:

1. Code and Ordinances — The Committee felt the City’s code structure was disconnected and caused confusion. They recommended creation of a unified development code and technical manual in conjunction with a review of all associated development regulations, in order to streamline review processes, remove unnecessary requirements, and to assure regulatory oversight occurs in the right place, at the right time. Reducing the duration and cost of entitlement must be a primary focus.

2. Process and Technology — The Committee made comprehensive recommendations to improve the entitlement and permit review process and the entitlement review process. Establishing a single authority over interpretations of the code was seen as critical to streamlining the review process. Creating a more customer-driven culture and approach to development / entitlement reviews and establishing goals and performance measures are seen as major needs. Of equal importance, is the need to upgrade the City’s technology systems, which support improved customer service and reduce review times.

3. Staff and Organization — The Committee strongly recommends merging the development review and the entitlement review staffs into one department to improve coordination and reduce overall review times. Establishing an “Ombudsman” type of position to help facilitate complex development and entitlement projects through the process was seen as a way to provide quality customer care. The Committee recognized that quality customer service and quality development review administration can be more quickly achieved and maintained through dedicated and regular training for all staff involved in t

The report will be available online beginning February 15 at www.tampagov.net/dept_Mayor/economic_competitiveness_committee.asp

  • Bob Buckhorn, Thom Snelling & Bob Abberger

For years in Tampa there have been complaints about the onerous permitting process that has hampered small and large companies from doing business in the city. The issue was so widespread that every candidate running for mayor last year vowed to do something about it if elected. So it was no surprise that Bob Buckhorn created a committee to study the problem shortly after he took office last spring.

Tuesday afternoon that group, which had met twice a month since last July, convened for a final time to release its report, which was broken down into three main categories: code and ordinances, process and technology, and staff and organization.

Members of the Economic Competitiveness Committee said perhaps the single best thing to come out of their work has already been announced: an electronic software package called Accela Citizen Access, that will allow businesses to apply and pay for permits, submit construction plans, schedule inspections, check the status of a permit or inspection, and print an approved permit online any time. That is expected to come online in a few months.


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