Thirteen months. That’s how long it took for a Miami developer to receive a building permit for a rental project proposed in the city’s Little Havana neighborhood.
And we’re not talking about an 80-story high-rise. Andrew Frey‘s project is an eight-unit apartment building on a 5,000-square-foot lot.
“I have single-family residential developers that have told me it takes longer to get a building permit than to build a house,” said Miami City Commissioner Francis Suarez, who added the issue to Thursday’s commission agenda.
He will ask commissioners to back a resolution directing city administration to study the Building Department‘s permitting process, “particularly for smaller projects and for those applicants who do not utilize a third-party permit expediter,” the resolution said.
“Our departments are being overloaded. When that happens, we need to find ways to increase our bandwidth, our ability to meet that increased demand,” Suarez told the Daily Business Review.
The city of Miami added $1 billion worth of new construction over the past year, according to the Miami-Dade County property appraiser’s office. Yet Miami’s construction boom is cooling off, and smaller developers are struggling with the high costs of an elongated permitting system that threatens to further slow it down.
A project sent to the Building Department is subject to several layers of review. Plans are physically moved from one subspecialty to another, such as structural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing. But often, plans are lost or sit untouched for days, Suarez said.
Frey, founder and principal at Tecela Management LLC, said a big condo developer is able to absorb a two- to three-month delay. But his project at 769 NW First St. is tiny compared to the city’s colossal towers, and so is his resource pool.
“Someone doing a small apartment building or adapting a warehouse into retail space … those extra months can do serious damage to their viability,” Frey said.
One possible solution would be to install an electronic-records system that would allow plans to move seamlessly within the department, the commissioner said. He will also propose a Miami 21 zoning code seminar for city’s permit reviewers, architects and developers to help avoid mistakes or multiple go-arounds on a single development.
“We want people to build in our city,” Suarez said. “Forty percent of our revenues are based on property taxes. When people build new homes, they’re increasing the value of property, which increases our tax base.”