Sandy Springs will soon unveil a new plan to make its permitting process faster.

The city calls the new service “Permit Go!”  It is tentatively set to launch Dec. 1, and preliminary timetables show dramatically reduced turnaround times for residential and commercial permits. Permits for remodeling the interior of a business would be granted within three working days, instead of the current 10, for example.

Community Development Director Angela Parker said applicants will be able to check the status of their permits online as part of the changes. This information will be available after business hours, she said.

“We get a lot of calls wanting to know the status of permits. That [change] will help from the staff’s point of view,” Parker said. “From the community’s standpoint, you can not only get the information quickly, you can get it at 10 p.m.”

For much of the past year the city has pursued ways to make the process move quickly and efficiently in response to pressure from members of the business community and homeowners.

“I think it’s going to be good for everybody, whether you’re remodeling your kitchen or you’re doing a major reconstruction project in downtown Sandy Springs,” Sandy Springs/Perimeter Chamber of Commerce Chairman Rusty Paul said.

Paul and other business leaders pushed for the changes because they felt the permitting process was unusually long for a city that prides itself as a model of efficiency. There were too many repeat trips to the Community Development Office, too many unhelpful interactions with employees and too many days between applying for a permit and receiving one, Paul said.

Joel Mero, left, speaks to Sandy Springs Lead Permit Technician Antionette McMillan on Nov. 20, 2012. Photo by: Dan Whisenhunt

At first glance, Sandy Springs permitting process doesn’t look like a candidate to be a government institution in need of reform.

Joel Mero dropped by the Community Development Office on Nov. 20 to discuss a residential pool permit.  Mero, of Merodynamic Pools, chatted with a permit technician behind a mustard-colored awning. Employees joked with contractors and kept things moving along. On his way out, Mero told a reporter he had no complaints about the service.

Another contractor, Blackstock Electric owner Danny Blackstock, said Sandy Springs is better than average. “I can tell you several people who need improvements,” Blackstock said on his way out the door. “But not here.”

Other local business owners report frustration and delays.

George Lawes, who recently opened a Sandy Springs branch of Kudzu & Company antiques store, called the permitting process a “mixed bag.”

“I found some parts of the building division down there to be responsive professional and timely and some others were not,” Lawes said.

Eleanor Benson, who has expanded her Moondog Growlers business into the city, described her experiences as generally positive. She said she felt the sign approval process took longer than necessary. She waited nearly a month before she could let potential customers know that they could purchase draft craft beer at her store.

Permit holdups can be damaging to a business, she said.

“Once you sign the lease, your clock is ticking,” Benson said. “You’re paying rent whether you’re open or not. From an economic standpoint … you’re bleeding money until you get the doors open.”

The city has been trying to tighten up its permitting process since the beginning of the year as the complaints have grown louder.

In February, the city sent out a survey soliciting feedback from permit applicants. In March, Mayor Eva Galambos vetoed Sandy Springs City Council’s decision to hire another employee to conduct pre-site inspections, saying it would make the permitting process more difficult. The council overruled her.

“There has been some perception that Sandy Springs permitting is cumbersome and not business friendly,” Galambos said in her written statement about the veto. “This is not the time to add another step to the permitting process that would lengthen the process.”

Paul said the Community Development office needed a change of culture. Since the city opened its doors in 2005, it has hired former Fulton County employees to oversee permitting, primarily because the city imported the old Fulton County zoning codes.

“They realized they had imported a lot of the old Fulton County attitudes,” Paul said.