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The Daily Tar Heel

Chapel Hill's permitting process still has kinks

The town merged the permit and inspections divisions of the Planning and Sustainability Department to form the Development Services Desk in August.

The change involved consolidating offices to operate out of one space exclusively and hiring new staff.

Mary Jane Nirdlinger, executive director of Planning and Sustainability, said there has been a slight increase in the number of permits the department has approved.

The department recently reviewed responses to a survey about the Development Services Desk. Nirdlinger said out of 24 respondents, 19 rated their experience with the new system positively, giving it a 10 out of 10 review.

She said those with negative feedback expressed frustrations related to customer service and the complicated process of obtaining a permit.

In an email to the town council, Nirdlinger said out of the 24 responses, four were negative. Negative comments included that the desk was rude during phone calls, that the process was confusing and that the receptionists were nice, but had too much to do.

In an email to town staff, Nirdlinger forwarded some of the negative comments the department had received.

“We build in many cities and counties, and I have been all over to get building permits. Chapel Hill is the most difficult by far,” one said. “We are honestly thinking of not building in Chapel Hill anymore because of the process and the hours needed to get a permit.”

Nirdlinger said the desk has made it easier to coordinate information now that people looking to obtain permits don’t have to go between different departments to do so.

“The office is a one-stop center for builders, contractors and developers, where they can come in and get all their answers,” she said.

Phil Mason, development manager of the town’s Planning and Sustainability office, said the department is also focused on making the process more efficient.

“We make incremental changes, but we’re continuously interested in improvements so there’s always something we can do,” Mason said.

Ben Perry, finance director at the local development company East West Partners Management Company, said he hopes the implementation of the Development Services Desk will make the process of obtaining a permit smoother than it has been in the past.

“You’d get comments from different departments that were in conflict with each other, so just trying to navigate the town bureaucracy was challenging,” Perry said. “I think the reasons that they made these changes are to address that though, and I’m hopeful that it happens.”

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