Metro's five development-related department heads — who have been working since May — are making strides in their efforts to revise and streamline the real estate development process.
That was the word heads of the Planning, Codes, Fire, Water and Public Works departments were spreading at special meeting of the Planning, Zoning and Historical Committee last night.
But news that work on the development process was well underway clearly surprised the Council — including the members who called the meeting — Jerry Maynard and Eric Crafton.
“As I got into this meeting I found out that there has been some progress made and quite a few changes that I wasn’t aware of when they first asked to do this meeting,” committee chairman Jim Gotto said at the beginning of the meeting.
“We have met together virtually every week since the first of May,” said Terry Cobb, director of Codes and Building Safety. “We’ve met together more than 30 times in 2008 with nothing on the agenda but the processes themselves.”
Mayor Karl Dean had asked the department heads to address inefficiencies in the development process and eliminate obstacles, Cobb told department heads, Council members and developers on hand Monday night.
“We learned a lot today, that they’ve been making improvements over the last 10 months. I wish we had better communications,” Maynard told The City Paper following the meeting. Although he didn’t feel there was a problem in communication between the departments and council, Maynard said in the future the two parties must work closer together.
All Metro departments involved in the process are now on integrated computer systems and share a common database. Developers can also now submit a single set of plans electronically which each department can review concurrently. The new systems also allow developers to track their plans through the process, as well electronically apply for, pay and print building permits. According to Cobb, 53 percent of the building permits issued last week were issued online.
“Cities across the country are having the same conversation, but if you look at them and read between the lines, you’ll see Nashville is miles ahead of most,” Cobb said. “In fact, you’ll see the process and technologies we have in place probably put us in the upper 10 percent of cities in the United States.”
Although they acknowledged the positive strides the departments have made in the process — several still pointed out areas the improvements have yet to address.
Maynard directed the conversation to the possibility of incentivizing infill and workforce housing in blighted urban areas, particularly the possibility of reducing or altering the fee structures that obstruct such building.
Crafton urged the department heads to directly engage developers in order to identify their concerns with the process. He also pressed the department heads to come forward with suggestions for action the Metro Council could take.
“Please … once you get legislation that you think we need to do, let us know so we can help you,” Crafton said.