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OK EXPECTED TO ALTER PERMIT PROCESS

Buffalo's six-year struggle to overhaul its permit process is expected to win Common Council approval Tuesday, and Mayor Anthony M. Masiello will sign the measure in hopes of implementing the changes in September.

Talk of reform began in the late 1990s, when business leaders complained the permit process hinders efforts to revitalize vacant downtown buildings and launch other projects. They cited "inequitable fees" that don't reflect the time or resources it takes inspectors to review projects.

Following a lengthy and contentious review, officials have submitted to the Council a complex fee restructuring that eliminates the need for many permits, establishes flat fees for other projects and implements a new formula that sets some fees based on the square footage for certain projects.

"It's basically a homeowner-friendly package," said Inspections Commissioner Raymond K. McGurn. "People will be able to do things -- repair their porches, put in windows and pave their driveways -- without getting permits."

In most cases, the new fees would make renovation projects less expensive. But costs associated with some new construction projects would likely be higher, officials acknowledged. City revenues tied to permits could drop by as much as 50 percent -- or by about $600,000. But the actual fiscal impact remains to be seen, said McGurn.

The restructuring won't end with the implementation of the fees. City officials said there will have to be a massive "education component" to make sure that homeowners and developers understand how the new fees affect them.

Within the next month, the city plans to use its Web site to pass along key information. Officials stressed that it will be the responsibility of individuals involved in rehabilitation projects or new construction to find out whether they need permits.

McGurn said there are numerous things that further complicate the process. For example, people who own homes in historic preservation districts face different permit requirements.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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