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City streamlines permit process

The Federal Way City Council agreed Tuesday night to six immediate changes to the city’s permitting and community development departments that should streamline the process and leave everyone feeling better served.

“Over the years, Federal Way, like other cities, heard concerns from residents and businesses on the permitting process,” said Assistant City Manager Derek Matheson. “It was really important to us from the beginning to find the small things we could do ... to make real tangible difference for citizens and businesses.”

The council on Tuesday passed a 25 percent trigger code amendment that was a year in the making, but left city staff and Chamber of Commerce members pleased with outcome.

The amendment combines the values of property and structure on properties 100,000 square feet or less to determine when property owners have to provide street upgrades when they improve their buildings.

On March 19, the city will bring back its popular expedited permit program.

City councilmembers discussed at the Jan. 11-12, 2002 retreat that better customer service should be part of a new-and-improved permitting process.

To that end, city staff from now on will send a letter to land use applicants explaining who to go to with questions, encouraging comments and thanking them for their business.

The City Manager’s office reorganized staff to cut down on the number of people who have to sign off on single-family permits. City staff expect the reorganization will shorten review times.

Councilmembers approved a “no surprise” policy that prohibits changes to the conditions of a permit without director approval.

To further help developers, city staff will contact project supervisors as projects near completion to ensure nothing is missing or to work out city issues before businesses are expected to open.

Dolores Shull, president and CEO of the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber is pleased with the city’s proactive approach to improving the permitting process.

“It can only benefit the economic vitality of Federal Way,” she said.

Still, there is more work to be done.

City staff are planning to create a forum of stakeholders, including developers, citizens, the chamber of commerce and environmental groups, to meet from March until August to gather input on city permitting improvements.

Next month, city staff expect to begin distributing a survey to everyone who used city permitting services during the last two years. The surveys will ask former permit applicants how easy the process was and their level of customer satisfaction.

The city also will provide a shorter survey for customers to fill out at the counter.

By the middle of this year, city staff should have enough information to begin planning administrative changes and budget issues, Matheson said.

Shull said the chamber is hoping eventually to see more city resources set aside for planning and development and clearer expectations for a timeline for permitting customers, but the city has made a good first step in attracting businesses to Federal Way.

“We look forward to working with city leadership and staff to make the process more streamlined,” she said.

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