Drive continues to speed building inspections by city
Mike Brennan has been named director of Bellevue’s newly created Development Services Department.
Brennan, a 20-year veteran of the city who has been leading Development Services ever since it became a division of the city Planning and Community Development Department, will oversee about 100 employees, most of whom were previously assigned to PCD.
Five years ago, under the direction of the council and City Manager Steve Sarkozy, the city launched a major effort to improve delivery of development services, including the time it took the city to complete building inspections, issue permits and approve design and construction documents. Brennan was chosen to lead the effort as a deputy director in the PCD.
“This has been one of our highest priorities, and under Mike’s direction, we have made been very successful and made tremendous strides, even as the city has experienced the largest downtown building boom in its history,” Sarkozy said.
“With the creation of a separate Development Services Department, we’ll be able to build on recent successes and reinforce this very important and critical city function,” Sarkozy added.
Sarkozy said creation of the new department will allow longtime Planning and Community Development Director Matt Terry, who previously oversaw the employees who will now be assigned to Development Services, more time to focus on strategic initiatives for the city manager’s office. Terry will continue to oversee PCD.
“Matt has done a great job, and now we want to free up some of his time so he can focus on some of the major initiatives now facing the community,” Sarkozy said.
Brennan has a bachelor’s degree in construction management from Washington State University and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Washington. He started his career with Chelan County in eastern Washington and joined Bellevue in 1987 as the city’s building official. He also serves as vice chair of the Issaquah Development Commission.
Brennan recently answered questions about development services and the new department:
Why was a Development Services Department formed? How will customers be better served?
Brennan: The Development Services Department is focused on building a quality city and delivering exceptional customer service through a coordinated line of business that spans multiple departments and divisions.
Let me give you an example. Previously, if you were a commercial contractor seeking a permit to build a single-family residence, you would have to do the legwork to obtain separate approvals from multiple departments with different processes and timelines. Now a single permit is issued for a new home and the coordination between departments and reviews is managed by the city.
The overarching goal is to give our customers fast, predictable services from a single source focused on high-quality outcomes.
During the past several years the city has placed an emphasis on improving customer service. Is the city making improvements?
Brennan: Bellevue places a high value on providing efficient, predictable, consistent and high-quality services in permitting and inspections. As such, we try to assess our performance based on the experiences of the homeowners, contractors and others who obtain permits and inspections from the city.
Responses to our 2007 annual customer survey show most customers – 83 percent – had a positive overall impression of the job we do reviewing building documents and performing inspections. Considering the challenges we’ve faced with record-setting development in our city, that is a very encouraging response. At the same time, 91 percent of the people who visited our Development Services Center felt they were treated in a helpful, courteous, knowledgeable manner. That too is very encouraging.
In addition to creating a good customer experience, what are the other benefits that come from the work of your department?
Brennan: There are significant benefits to Bellevue and developers that come from predictable and timely development review and a stable regulatory environment. A predictable permit process shrinks the risk for developers, creating incentive to build in Bellevue. Shorter permit timelines reduce tenant costs for both new and existing buildings, and working to build an attractive high-quality city brings new investment.
Bellevue is undergoing an unprecedented building boom downtown. What has it been like to go through this boom and just how big it has been?
Brennan: Well, for one thing, it’s been pretty exciting. Those of us who work in Development Services have had a front-row seat to new development that has dramatically changed the complexion and character of Bellevue.
The current development cycle began in 2005 and reached its peak last year, a record-setting year for construction in the Bellevue. During 2007, the value of construction represented by issued permits reached an all-time high, exceeding $800 million; the number of inspections completed surpassed 70,000, and the number of permits issued reached 13,700. A number of the projects that received permits in 2007 are still under construction, which is evidenced by the number of cranes towering over downtown.
How has the city been able to utilize new technologies in recent years to better serve clients?
Brennan: Providing access to information and services using the Internet has been a key element in our strategy to improve our service delivery.
We have worked regionally with our neighboring cities to create MyBuildingPermit.com, a common point of access to obtain permits, deliver technical information and check status of permits and inspections. We will continue to work with our regional partners to expand these services and align our practices to improve consistency for our common customers.
We also are taking steps to convert many of our documents to digital format for easier access by staff to improve their efficiency and to provide more convenient access to the records by the public. Moving to an electronic-document format also will allow for expanded services using the Internet.
Looking into your crystal ball, what do you envision in terms of development for the next one to two years?
Brennan: Construction activity downtown and across the city has reached a peak. Like most of the country, we are beginning to see a slowing in new permits, particularly in the residential sector.
Nevertheless, developers are still viewing Bellevue with high interest, and new projects are making their way through the permitting process. We expect to see continued activity in office, health care, school reconstruction and apartments. Much of this is focused in or near downtown.