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City, county announce 1-stop approach for development

Statement issued Monday:

Fort Wayne, Ind. – Accelerating their joint efforts to make Fort Wayne and Allen County the best place to start and grow a business, Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry and Allen County Commissioner Nelson Peters today outlined plans to streamline the land-use permitting process for large-scale developments and projects.

Joining Mayor Henry and Commissioner Peters in the announcement were local business leaders and members of the task force that have been addressing the issue, including Allen County Council member Roy Buskirk, who has been a vocal champion of the idea.

“The welcome mat is out for investment and job creation in Fort Wayne and Allen County,” said Mayor Henry. “We know time is money, so we are committed to making it easier for businesses to prosper in Fort Wayne. This far-reaching, land-use permitting plan will ensure local government is a true partner with our business community. Working together, we are creating a one-stop shop for economic growth, one that puts development opportunities on the fast track to success.”

The Mayor and Commissioner rolled out a multifaceted plan and new approach for land-use permitting that simplifies and speeds up processes, jumpstarts the use of technology, streamlines approvals, provides hands-on support and quicker answers, and strives to clarify and align the complicated rules and regulations of both jurisdictions.

The changes are targeted toward projects that represent large investments or a high-level of complexity. Based upon numbers spanning 2008 through 2010, the new plan will affect about 8 percent of all permits issued, accounting for almost $300 million of annual investment or approximately 65 percent of local, yearly development spending.

“The improvements to this process will have an enormous impact on both the businesses we retain, as well as the jobs we seek to attract,” said Commissioner Peters.

The proposed land-use permitting plan includes the following components, in four key areas:

1. Process Innovation and Technology Improvements:

• A comprehensive, online Development Portal, putting all essential information in one, easy-access location and reflecting best practices;

• Capabilities to transact nearly all development-related business online, such as submitting information, checking project status, coordinating inspections, securing and printing permits and forms, and paying for services;

• Multiple interactive options to allow rapid response to development questions, conversations amongst users and ease of contact;

• Ability to work on steps concurrently and monitor all steps in the development process at the portal in real time; and

• A searchable storehouse of all relevant statutes, ordinances, resolutions, plans and documents.

2. Customer Service Enhancements:

• The new position of Chief Development Expeditor, assigned to the largest and most complex projects;

• An internal team available to facilitate projects designated as midrange investments;

• Promotion of a culture of customer service throughout all City and County departments;

• Formal feedback methods with the development community on an ongoing basis; and

• Extensive customer service training.

3. Legislative Streamlining:

• Mechanism to clarify, clean up and reconcile relevant City, County and State statutes, ordinances, resolutions, plans and documents; and execute recommended changes, taking into account items no longer applicable, City-County permit matching and integration of planning documents.

4. “Best Place to Start & Grow a Business” Assurance Program:

• Formal teams to collaborate with the development community and ensure expectations are met, consistency of action, continuous process improvements and delivery on plan.

The complete realization of the plan will bring seven County departments and 12 City departments under the new permitting umbrella.

Mayor Henry and the County Commissioners are seeking the support of the Fort Wayne City and Allen County Councils respectively to each approve $700,000 in funding for the changes. When approved, the plan will be fully implemented in 12 months to 18 months.

These permitting process improvements are the next major step in the City’s and County’s aggressive, ground-up efforts over the last several years to make the community more business friendly and government more efficient. A long list of accomplishments have set the table for this component, beginning with Plan-it Allen, the Fort Wayne-Allen County Comprehensive Land Use and Development Plan; the merger of the City and County land-use planning departments; and the co-location initiative that is bringing nearly all local government together physically, with all development-related functions headquartered conveniently in Citizens Square.

The joint City-County permitting task force consists of Commissioner Peters, County Council members Buskirk and Larry Brown, City Council members John Shoaff and Tom Smith, and Deputy Mayor Beth Malloy.

The task force consulted directly with the business community to identify concerns and craft a plan that would meet its needs. Regular meetings with business owners, developers, builders and architects have been part of the effort and will continue, along with ongoing internal team meetings. A customer-satisfaction survey was also used to gather quantifiable data and insights, and will be a tool employed moving forward to measure progress.

On smaller projects, over 90 percent of permits are typically issued over the counter in one day or less. These permits denote more than $160 million of work or 35 percent of the total local, annual development investment.

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