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Task force compiles permitting recommendations

Suggestions to improve Rochester development permitting procedures are a combination of high-tech and low-tech solutions.

An 11-member task force appointed by the city council to examine development procedures met for five hours last week and cast a wide net, in terms of what they feel is necessary to alleviate concerns private developers have with the Planning, Public Works and Building Safety departments.

Some recommended improvements will cost money, such as upgrading the city-owned Accela permit-tracking software to allow online permit applications and enhance public access.

Others will take time, such as combing through city procedures to simplify the steps developers must follow to get all the permits they need.

And one is completely intangible — adopting a new mindset that is more welcoming and customer-friendly.

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"It's a culture change," said task force Chairman Jerry Williams. That is, it's a difference between "rolling out the red carpet or rolling out the red tape," he said.

Customers in any industry tend to be more willing to overlook a flawed performance or delays if the service is good, Williams said.

"That should be non-negotiable," he said.

The city departments' attitudes toward developers were the focus of a report earlier this year from the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce. The chamber, using a Bush Foundation grant, hired an outside consultant to interview developers and city officials in producing the report.

The city council, in response, formed the task force, which has met 10 times since its formation in June. Williams is planning to present the group's recommendations to the city council on Dec. 12.

After that, the task force "will just kind of push the 'pause' button," Williams said, and not meet again until spring, when members will hear from city staff members how the recommendations are being implemented. Beyond that, the group may continue to meet quarterly as needed.

"I've been really impressed with how much work the city has already done," said task force member Tom Prendergast, a project manager for Alvin E. Benike, Inc. "I'm comfortable they've stepped up and really taken this seriously."

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