One of the many unfortunate things for which Buffalo has been famous – or, more accurately, infamous – is its Byzantine system for processing building permits. It was, for years, a thorn in the side of developers and a hindrance to the city’s economic prospects.
That system has improved greatly in recent years, but more can be done, and the good news is that the Brown administration is working on that. It is planning to purchase $300,000 worth of new software to smooth the permitting system and help ensure that City Hall isn’t getting in the way of Buffalo’s renewal. It’s an important, back-office upgrade that is necessary to keep Buffalo’s resurgence on track.
It’s hard to get the ball rolling on a renaissance such as Buffalo’s and easy to let it lapse. Maintaining momentum is crucial, and smoothing the city’s permitting system is key to that goal.
The main problem today, and one that the new system may address, is that applications and forms have to be obtained, filled out and submitted by hand, on paper and in person. It wouldn’t have been much different in the 19th century, let alone the 20th.
In 2016, it is crucial to be modern, and that means adopting a system that allows applicants to file online. From initial application through final disposition, the process should be electronic, increasing efficiency and decreasing the chance for needless delay. To resist means increasing public cost, putting an unwanted damper on development and making the city less competitive with others.
The proposal remains undefined but nonetheless drew broad support from developers who work in the city, even those who recognized that the Brown administration has significantly improved the city permitting process over what it had once been. Alone, that makes the city more business friendly.
But all improvements in efficiency are welcome, and it’s possible that others will be necessary. As Matthew W. Meier, a partner at HHL Architects, observed, city staffing also needs to be sufficient to handle demand, which has increased and, so far, shows no sign of slowing down.
“Online application and tracking software certainly will help the archaic process. But if there aren’t more people to actually review and approve the plans, no amount of software will improve it,” he told The News.
It’s a fair point, and one that City Hall should take into account. Still, it is nothing but a good sign that the administration is taking steps to eliminate a stumbling block in the crucial permitting system and, at the same time, joining the 21st century. It’s never too late.