County adds staff, revamps building permit system

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Hawaii County residents applying for building permits during the past two months might have found the process to come with less red tape than usual.

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Hawaii County residents applying for building permits during the past two months might have found the process to come with less red tape than usual.

In an overhaul of the permit review process, the county as of July 1 instituted a new three-tier classification system that allows nearly half of applications to be expedited and began pre-screening applications to weed out those that are faulty and incomplete. The process now starts at the Planning Department rather than Public Works.

Additionally, the county budgeted 22 new positions to handle permit applications in order to reduce wait time. It wasn’t immediately clear how much those positions will cost, though they were approved by the County Council as part of the most recent budget process.

“This is not just to grow government but to make government more responsive,” Mayor Billy Kenoi told members of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Hawaii on Wednesday at the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center.

“People shouldn’t be frustrated for the time it takes for different county agencies to talk to each other,” he later added.

Roughly 16 positions have been filled so far, estimated Public Works Director Warren Lee, who led a presentation about the new process.

The goal is to get applications labeled “easy,” such as those involving solar panels and some residential additions, to be reviewed within two business days and those considered “intermediate” approved within 14 working days, Lee said. Complex applications could take 48 days to complete.

Lee estimated 46 percent of permits fit in the easy category. Under the new system, they are sent through the “express lane” and don’t get tied up by other, more complicated applications, he said.

Planning Director Duane Kanuha and Lee said they still are working out the kinks in the process but noted progress in reducing wait times.

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Lee said about half of the expedited permits, which require fewer departmental reviews, have been completed in two days. He said “99 percent” of those considered intermediate have been completed within 14 working days.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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