Extended inspection hours and an upgraded electronic-filing system are among the ideas under consideration at the New York City Department of Buildings, Commissioner Rick Chandler said at a Crain's breakfast forum Tuesday at the Yale Club.
The agency's online scheduling portal, dubbed Hub Inspection Ready, is slated to go live early next year. It will allow people to file inspection requests and eventually to view inspection results through the hub. Mr. Chandler acknowledged that gaps in the online system have dampened users' enthusiasm for it since the department rolled it out in 2011 and said the new hub is intended to address those inefficiencies.
The commissioner, who took office July 17, also floated an idea of charging a fee to answer requests about conceptual projects and for the department to conduct inspections after normal business hours on weekdays and even on weekends.
The department currently has 1,100 staffers in the wake of a number of departures that occurred in the gap between the Bloomberg administration leaving office in January and Mayor Bill de Blasio appointing a new buildings commissioner seven months later. The delay was costly. Complaints rose about growing backlogs in the department as a number of key people left the agency, including former Assistant Commissioner James Colgate, who joined law firm Bryan Cave. Staff levels are again rising, however, and are budgeted to hit 1,200 in 2015, in the midst of an ongoing surge in permit applications this year.
"We are very much aware of the backlog issue and of certain staffers who think their job is to stop development, which is not acceptable," Mr. Chandler said.
Another cause of delays in processing permit applications is that many of them land in the department's in-box incomplete. The commissioner called the process by which developers deliberately submit incomplete applications "design by objection," in which proposals are honed over the course of "six, seven or eight" rejections.
"Folks giving us a plan with just a few lines on it goes over the line," Mr. Chandler said. He also proposed charging a fee for owners to consult with the department to see if their ideas are potentially viable, so that they have "some sense of security about whether they can move forward with a project." Such a program "is in the exploratory phase right now," he said. The agency currently performs that service for free.