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Washington County considers 'walk-through' permit approvals

The process would be expedited for simple residential and commercial projects

February 07, 2012|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com

Washington County officials decided Tuesday to look into offering same-day “walk-through” permit approvals for simple projects such as adding decks and building sheds.

Several neighboring counties offer such expedited permitting, and county officials have received requests to offer a similar option here, Jennifer M. Smith, director of plan review and permitting, told the Washington County Board of Commissioners.

Smith said that in addition to small residential projects, walk-through permitting could apply to simple commercial projects such as adding an internal partition wall, or a zoning permit when ownership changes but there is no change in use.

“In some cases, we do these already in our division as a same-day permit, but it’s not a guarantee right now; it’s not an advertised program,” Smith said.

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The five commissioners reached a consensus to have Division of Plan Review and Permitting employees develop recommendations for a walk-through program, including details about what projects would be eligible, what days and times expedited review would be offered, and whether additional staff would be needed.

That review will also include an analysis of how the program would affect long-term reviews of larger projects, Smith said.

“We don’t want to hold up too many bigger projects,” she said.

Several of the commissioners were supportive of the idea.

“I really think you’re heading in the right direction,” Commissioner William B. McKinley said.

“It sounds awesome,” Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham said, noting  that she admired Smith’s courage because if some projects are promised same-day permitting, “somebody’s not going to be happy.”

Commissioner John F. Barr called the idea a “great initiative,” but questioned a potential rule that to qualify, projects could not be served by wells or septic systems.

Smith said that even simple projects on those properties may require Washington County Health Department approval, for example, to verify that a deck is not being built on the reserve area for a septic system.

Smith said her staff would present detailed recommendations to the county within two months for their review and approval.

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