In an effort to increase the efficiency of the East Baton Rouge Parish permits department—long the bane of local developers and builders—the city-parish has begun farming out additional plan review services to a firm that was already doing some work for the permits office.
For the past year, South Central Planning and Development Commission has been providing expedited plan review services to the city-parish for an additional fee that is paid for by applicants.
But until July, the firm had the authority only to do commercial and residential building plan reviews. The city-parish still had to check plans for their compliance with the zoning code, which entailed reviewing maps of surface streets and sewer lines, among other things.
As a result, bottlenecks continued to occur, dragging out the permitting process, much to the dismay of both residential and commercial builders.
Under the new system, South Central has the authority to handle all aspects of plan review, meaning once the firm OKs a set of building plans, permits should be issued by the city-parish immediately.
Applicants who want to take advantage of the expedited service for commercial building plans have to pay an additional fee of 19 cents per square foot, about 4 cents more than is currently charged. Residential plan reviews cost 10 cents per square foot plus a flat $60 fee.
The new service has been in effect for about three weeks now, and Larry Bankston, executive director of the Baton Rouge Growth Coalition, says it’s going well so far.
“Is the system perfect yet? No,” Bankston says. “But it is much better and we are excited about the fact that South Central is providing a more complete review and is able to direct the parish to issue the permits.”
The change in the plan review process has came about, in part, from the results of an efficiency study commissioned by the Broome administration earlier this year.
Bankston acknowledges that developers continue to complain, not just about the plan review process but about a disconnect between the public works departments, which is under the mayor’s office, and the Planning Commission, which falls under the Metro Council.
“There has always been a gulf there,” he says. “We are working with the mayor’s office to see what we can do about it.”