- The Washington Times - Monday, December 11, 2006

The complaints inundated D.C. Mayor-elect Adrian M. Fenty almost as soon as he walked into the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs yesterday:

It takes too long to get a permit. Different employees give applicants different answers. Residents aren’t notified of the department’s new procedures.

“I’ve been doing this for 23 years, and this office is by far the worst” in the area, said Jeffrey M. Stoiber, president of Stoiber and Associates PC architecture firm in Northwest. “This department needs to be blown up and started over again.”

Mr. Fenty toured the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) headquarters on North Capitol Street in Northeast to take a firsthand look at the much-maligned department.

The tour was “field research,” Mr. Fenty said, and part of his transition efforts to see how different factions of the D.C. government function on a daily basis and where they can be improved.

Today, he will join a 6th District police officer on foot patrol. Mr. Fenty said he also plans to take a closer look at the Department of Public Works and the Department of Motor Vehicles.

“We want to come firsthand and see how the agencies are working,” Mr. Fenty said.

DCRA — which doles out 35,000 permits to residents each year for projects that range from operating Christmas tree stands to building massive renovations — has not worked well recently.

In September, employees said the department had a backlog of more than 3,000 pending zoning applications and more than 4,000 pending applications for structural permits.

The approval process often stretched months longer than applicants anticipated, causing frustration for homeowners and big developers.

“It is a really big deal in the business community and still a symbol of how far the District of Columbia has to go,” Mr. Fenty said.

But the department has made progress in the past three months, reducing the backlog of zoning applications to just 290 and structural applications to 708.

Officials also have reduced wait times for processing applications, extended operating hours and used information technology, such as Mr. Fenty’s favored CapStat program to help streamline and bring more accountability to the permitting process.

They also hope to soon place most of the process online — an idea Mr. Fenty championed after an October visit with permitting officials in Los Angeles.

“We’ve made huge progress,” said agency director Patrick J. Canavan, who was appointed to his post by outgoing Mayor Anthony A. Williams in January 2005. “And that work’s foundational.”

Mr. Fenty said that he had not made a decision about retaining Mr. Canavan, and that personnel announcements would be made after his inauguration Jan. 2.

During his tour yesterday of DCRA’s permit, homeowner and business centers, Mr. Fenty participated in the walk-through process for a small-job permit, which would be needed for a project such as replacing kitchen cabinets.

DCRA officials said such applications are usually processed in about three days, but they hope to trim that time frame to just one day.

Mr. Fenty also helped process a new-business license application. He said he invited Mr. Stoiber and others who deal regularly deal with DCRA to join the tour.

“We’ll walk, and you guys can show us what’s right and what’s wrong,” Mr. Fenty said. “We’ll fix everything that’s going wrong.”

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