Revamped planning, building departments draw raves |

Revamped planning, building departments draw raves

Ever since the breakup of the joint county and city planning and building department was made official, things have been running more smoothly than ever. Call it an amicable divorce.

From all indications – from customer comments to worker satisfaction – the new setup on the third floor of City Hall is working better than anticipated.

For years, the home to the planning and building departments of both Pitkin County and the city of Aspen had been a cramped and harried place.

Often there would be a line of builders, architects, attorneys and consultants standing around a small counter just inside the door, sometimes with dogs at their side and plans under their arms. They would wait in line to sign in or for whomever they were waiting for to appear from behind the stacks of filing cabinets.

The waist-high counter made it appear as if the administrative assistants were in a pit with landowners and their employees shouting down commands.

For the uninitiated, it could be utter confusion.

Now, when builders and landowners step through the door, they enter an open lobby with the city’s desk on the left and the county’s straight ahead.

There is space for landowners and developers to spread out plans, even multiple sets of plans, on large counters. And for several hours each day everyone they need to consult is available to answer questions. Two days a week, county engineer Bud Eylar is also on hand to answer questions to which only he knows the answer.

Right next to the front desk on the county side, there is a suite of two offices occupied by the planning, zoning and building officials who can answer most people’s questions. And when it gets busy or an especially difficult question is asked, several employees – including Community Development Director Cindy Houben – are now within a few steps.

“We’ve got all the resources available right here to get your building permit processed and out the door,” Houben said.

She said the county’s new system for classifying building permit applications based on their complexity has made it easier to expedite those that should be quick and easy. Many applicants receive their permits in less than seven days – lightning quick by the standards of the past.

Houben gives quite a bit of credit for the increased efficiency to her staff, who have been eager to learn more about their colleagues’ jobs and become better at their own.

“Our roles and responsibilities have changed – a lot of people are cross training, which is what we want,” she said.

The increased efficiencies will be needed this spring when the building permits start to pour in, because the planning department which handles development applications has lost one full-time planner. Tamara Pregl, who took a position earlier this year at Garfield County, has not been replaced.

“Right now we’re keeping up, but we’ll have to wait and see with the busy season,” Houben said.

The breakup of the city and county planning and building departments had been contemplated for years. In fact, the planning departments have been officially separated since the early 1990s, but the two governments continued to share administrative services and operate a single building department.

As of Aug. 6, the two departments have been separate in all functions. Tony Fusaro has been running the newly formed county building department, while Stephen Kanipe, who used to run the unified department, is the city’s chief building official. The filing and administration have also been separated.

“It was a pain in the butt during the whole process of splitting up, but, from a public perspective, it’s a lot better now that it’s finished,” said Brian McNellis, a county planner.

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