Problems persist with city’s permit application process

Many in Honolulu’s construction industry say problems persist with the city’s electronic permit application process.

KHON2 first heard complaints after the city switched over to an electronic system which, according to industry professionals, triggered longer waits to start new construction projects.

Applications for new building permits can only be submitted electronically through a program called ePlans. The city said the ePlans system was created to simplify and improve the plan review system.

Three months ago, the Department of Planning and Permitting was planning to do a number of things to improve the waits, such as hire more people and continue to train them.

But industry professionals told KHON2 the problem still exists.

“I used to build 25 to 30 homes a year. In the last two years, I’ve built four. It’s really depressing,” said John Meyers, who owns the design build firm Innovative Building Solutions.

New building materials sit unused in Meyers’ warehouse in Kaneohe. He says he has $6 million in projects waiting for building permits.

“I used to take three to five weeks to get a building permit under the old paper system by hand routing. Now they don’t even look at them in the first three to five months,” he said.

Many in the industry said one of the main problems is the lack of city workers for ePlans.

Three months ago, DPP told KHON2 improvements were being made. Officials increased staff, continued to provide training to workers and classes to explain the ePlans process, and made other changes.

But just last week, department officials updated councilmembers about the issue, telling them they had three people working on ePlans, and the problem wasn’t the lack of workers, but their lack of experience.

Ikaika Anderson, the council’s zoning and planning committee chair, says there is money in the budget to hire more people.

“It’s difficult again to give DPP additional staff members when they’re telling the council that they don’t need it,” he said, but “we are ready to help with additional staffing.”

Anderson is encouraging people in the industry to call his office at 768-5003 with concerns or problems with the ePlans system, so he can help.

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