New County Tool Aims To Fast Track New Home Construction Permits

By Cece Nunn, posted Apr 7, 2017
Nicholas Gadzekpo
New Hanover County has added a new tool for home builders.

The county’s Fast Track Residential Building Permit for the construction of new homes puts applicants in charge of securing the needed approvals from city of Wilmington zoning, Cape Fear Public Utility Authority and county environmental health.

In return, they can expect a four- to seven-day turnaround for approval from the county’s building safety department.

“With them going in there first themselves, they have a better handle on the timelines and know first-hand what necessary adjustments they have to make in their schedules, if any, toward the construction,” said Nicholas Gadzekpo, director of the county’s building safety department.

Whereas if the building safety department has to track down the status of approvals from external reviews, he explained, the process can take longer. County environmental health is considered external, he said, because it reports to a board rather than the county manager.

"The Department collaborated and partnered with the Wilmington-Cape Fear Home Builders Association (WCFHBA), and also received strong support from the County Manager to implement the new Fast Track program on Monday, April 3, 2017," the county's website says. "The Department is implementing this new process to help residential building customers, and to expedite the residential permit process for the customers who first obtain the required approvals from the review agencies specified by the County. This means that the permit application will be filed after the approvals have been granted by those review agencies."

While the county does foresee a continuing increase in building permit applicants, a main reason to implement the fast track application is because of "the fact that a lot of the developers or builders may have taken out loans and with interest accruing day by day, if they have a better handle on where things are, they know how to properly plan or execute their schedules for construction," Gadzekpo said.

Other changes aimed at increasing efficiency in the residential permit system could be on the horizon.

"It has been a frustration for a lot of contractors for a very long time about the number of places that you have to go get even the most basic permit to build residential or to do alterations, and the wish to have a what we call a one-stop permitting or central permitting has been a goal," said County Commissioner Rob Zapple, who is also a contractor who mainly works on residential projects. 

Officials are discussing the possibility of having a city zoning and CFPUA presence at county offices, for example.

"There doesn’t seem to me to be any reason why we can’t bring all entities together so that you go to one place, maybe different cubicles, but one place," Zapple said.

New software for the permit process, by Tyler Technologies, is expected to be considered by county officials in April.

The current software vendor in use, One Solutions, has been described by officials and others as "cumbersome."

One Solutions has presented challenges and hindered the workflow in some cases for builders, said Cameron Moore, executive officer of WCFHBA.

The expectation for the new software is that "workflow processes are more linked together throughout the system and it will have notifications set up and it will also be more mobile friendly," Moore said.
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