Building Permit Times Comments

Turn-Around Time for Building Permit Issuance in Washington State - Comments
(MRSC Email Survey - October 2001)
Name/Jurisdiction Comments
Heather McCartney


Please note that when: a Conditional Use, the site is Site Sensitive or an Environmental Impact Statement is required, then the projects do not fall within the standard review periods we are achieving. Short Plats and Subdivisions are not included in these as well. In most cases our commercial and industrial properties have sites have to deal with Transportation impacts and analysis, storm drainage (a big issue), Tree Retention, and sensitive area set asides and enhancement, and SEA, which is integrated up-front.

Not Site Sensitive Single-family Building Permits: 4 weeks. We have been backlogged this year (especially after June) and it was taking up to 8 weeks. We are back down to 4 weeks.

Site-sensitive Single-family Building Permits: 120 days. There seem to be more delays with these projects, as applicants have not gotten geotechnical report, wetlands analysis, etc. done before they submit.

Commercial/Industrial Building Permits: 6-8 weeks.

Commercial/Industrial LU Permits: (Site Plan Review, Civil Plans, Landscape Plans to obtain a Grading Permit) 90-120 days. The majority of projects (10) this year permits were issued before or by 90 days.

What makes for a timely project?

We are finding that it is the experience of the applicant and the quality/experience of their consultants that really makes the difference on time lines. Another words, we have gotten our "Project Management" side down to a fine art. We can tell an applicant where they will have problems and how to resolve them so that their project proceeds in a timely manner. (see below). Property/business owners that have no experience with the development process and try to be their own "developer" find it extremely difficult to get everything timed correctly and have problems resolving issues that come up during the review and construction process. For them, these issues always cost more than they planned and impact their time line. I have also found they have not hired seasoned professionals that know the soils problems in this area which affect stormwater and erosion control requirements and only become more stringent in the winter months. These are also the projects that do not get their development ready to go during the previous winter and are applying for permits during the summer July/August and are trying to get their project up and running in Sept/Oct. right when the weather turns bad. It has not seemed to help them, that we warn them of all these problems and the criticalness of timing. Unfortunately, the blame is always laid on the jurisdiction, since we have not "made it easy" for them.

Where we have professional staff - seasoned civil engineers, project managers for the developer, and high quality construction leads - with good dirt contractors - we have been able to work the issues on getting quality civil engineering plans submitted for review the first time or at time of submittal and then have been able to red-line the plans or request minor amendments to the plans to get them through the first time. The turn around by civil engineering companies has been running 6-8 weeks, so any changes, puts that project behind because it is waiting to be queued at the civil's office and then has to be queued again when it comes back to our agency.

On a Phase 1 - 22,642 s.f. mixed use project with 235 multi-family and commercial and home offices, by having 4 pre-applications meetings with the arch, consulting engineers, LA's, and developers along with Planning Director, City Planning Project Manager lead, PW Dir., Fire Chief, and Building Official they were able to submit and we red-lined civils and we had permits ready to go in 63 days. Developers can sign a waiver that allows them to submit building plans at the same time (we even had them do it before) for review at the same time we are reviewing site plans and civil. This concurrent track has been very successful. They are signing a waiver that they will make any changes necessary to the building plans, if there are site plan changes needed to approve the project. On this mixed-use project, everyone was working to have them out on the site by May. They started coming up from the foundations about a week ago. This means they have their utilities in, the first lift of the road, the foundations poured and have the site "winterized" to control erosion. They can work through the winter on buildings because they timed and sequenced development correctly to meet strict erosion measures.

Having read the responses from agencies vs. consultants, there is a great disparity been what we are saying and what they are experiencing. This issue needs to be looked at. I would encourage you to break out cities from County response times, we are "hearing" there is great disparities, and would not want to be painted with the same brush. In fact, even cities are probably experiencing variations based on time of year and staffing levels. We have been short staffed in either engineering or planning for almost 2 years. It takes about 6 mo. to hire a staff person and it takes 1 year before they are truly effective and knowledgeable about our codes and development "pit falls". They are not able to coach in-experienced applicants through a project. Obviously, we try to give them easier projects but, I have live examples where the sites are not a problem, but the projects have taken extraordinary efforts by staff and developer to work all issues out.

George Buell, AICP

Triad Associates

Under GMA, the 120-day clock can justifiably be stopped and stared by actions on both sides of the counter. In my mind, a project starts at

complete application and stops with certificate of occupancy. But careful apples-to-apples comparison is needed. (i.e. How do you portray the beginning and end of a project with multiple phases that are intended to be built over a 10-year period?). With the plethora of ESA-related and other environmental issues that come into play, and the need to balance good planning practice with timely permit processing, numbers alone will not paint a full picture of what is really happening-other than perhaps establishing a baseline to use for comparison at a later date, or comparing to a meaningful baseline set previously. It would be helpful to know why the question is being asked. If the MRSC wants to report that the 120-day limit is still being met, that's one thing. But it may be very misleading to say that the development community has seen no change in permit processing timelines over the past two or three years. In the central Puget Sound region, the development process seems to be getting longer-especially on larger projects with critical areas.

Katie Hoverter

Stevens County

The Planning Office asked me to respond to your inquiry about the turnaround time for building permit issuance. Generally, if an applicant for a

building permit for a single family residence submits a complete permit application with all required information, including appropriate construction plans, water information and a septic permit issued, plot plan) we can normally complete plan review and issue a permit within 7-10 days. This number may fluctuate depending on the time of year. It may be a few days longer in mid-spring (busiest submittal time). The turn around is similar for manufactured home placement permits; we generally advise people it takes about 5-7 days.

I queried the permit database for the last five years of all building and manufactured home applications; the average time from application to permit issuance came up at 19 days for 3300 permits. There were some applications that took over a year to issue for various reasons; those skewed the results.

Rollin Harper
Sehome P&D Services

Sumas, Nooksack

Sumas: Residential building permits take about one week for plan review by in-house staff at the city. Larger projects (commercial, industrial) take about one month - these usually are sent for outside plan review. Certainly, there are factors that can slow the process down. These include the quality, clarity and completeness of the submitted materials, the availability of outside plan reviewers, etc.).

Nooksack: Residential building permits take about one week. Again, these are reviewed in-house by staff at the city. Non-residential take three to four weeks depending on the factors mentioned above.

Both communities have adopted administrative procedures consistent with RCW 36.70B. The local regulations require completion of permit processing within 120 days. Both jurisdictions endeavor to act on discretionary development permits as quickly as possible. Sumas typically will take action on a non-controversial application for a conditional use permit within one month. This is only possible because the city has made timely permit review a high priority. Of course, complicated and/or controversial projects can take much longer - especially when the project potentially involves adverse impacts to the environment.

Mark Pywell


In Issaquah we typically send out a letter to the applicant within a week of accepting the application across the counter. The letter states any deficiencies or that the project is sufficient for routing. Any delays caused by the request for additional information can cause delays in the processing of the application. These delays stop the 120 day review clock. Such delays usually are related to the need for more detailed information regarding critical areas or traffic. Discussions regarding conditions are usually conducted as the project is reviewed and do not cause delays unless the applicant requests time to provide further studies to support their arguments. Issaquah does have a larger city staff than most cities of the same population. Six current planners and three long range planners for a population of approximately 13,000.

In a separate email, Mr. Pywell writes: "I agree with the basic message from George (Buell)." It seems over the last few years projects have been following what GMA wanted which is to fill in the areas that were skipped over in the past. Why were they skipped over? Very simply because, as we are all aware, these sites have problems and not usually just one but several problems such as steep slopes and wetlands. As the site gets more difficult and therefore more expensive to develop we all try to fit in more development to cover the costs. It is becoming a vicious circle. The solutions take time and get complex therefore taking more time. I don't think that there are any easy solutions out there for this one. Setting artificial time lines will not resolve the problem.

Mark Beardslee

Our turnaround time is dependent almost entirely on the quality and completeness of the application and the amount of time the applicant wants to spend "negotiating" the requirements for the development. If the application is complete single family houses take a month and commercial six weeks, if the application is not complete or the applicant wants to "discuss" what seem to them unreasonable conditions on development, that can take an interminable length of time.
David Johnson

City of Seattle is 120 days and depending on whether the application requires corrections upon review, it can take much longer. I think it also depends on workload. Seattle is definitely slower because there is so much more volume of work.
David Crow

Cowlitz County

In Cowlitz County, the average "turn around time" for building permits is 2 1/2 to 3 weeks. This is an average of a wide range, from 1 day to maybe two months, depending, of course, on the scope of the project and the issues (particularly environmental) that might be involved.

Larry Frazier adds: First that will depend upon several factors in Cowlitz County. For example, if the plans are adequate, no environmental problems on a building lot, and all other planning requirements can be meet our turn around time is one to two weeks depending on the workload. Right now our turn around time is one week. This is for residential. More complex commercial or industrial projects are highly variable - but a good estimate would be three weeks.

Chris Parsons


Reid Shockey


Parsons: RCW 36.70B.010 (Regulatory Reform Act of 1995) established an integrated SEPA/GMA permitting program that requiring a complete application (that has a DNS SEPA threshold determination) to be processed within 120 days. Most local governments have used this process and find that permits can be processed even quicker than that. Ask the MRSC if they have information about the county breakout for permitting.

Shockey: ...and other jurisdictions have found ways to claim 120 day processing while in fact permits can be delayed a year or more. I would caution Municipal Research to challenge local governments to define their terms so that a true picture of timing from the date of application to the date of issuance is given. Also, the MR request talks about permits...Are these building permits or all forms of development entitlements?

John Neff

I have received a copy of your e-mail to WA APA regarding time frames for permit issuance. While a valid request, it is unfortunately a flawed question. Several years ago, AWC performed a similar survey. I responded to them in a similar manner. Their request, and it seems yours as well, is to document the total time spent from initial submittal of a complete application to the date of permit issuance. That time period, while interesting, does not answer the question that I think is being asked. As I understand the real question, it is: "what is the average time period spent by a jurisdiction in reviewing a plan and getting the building permit issued?" That is a totally different question. For example, in Lacey, we can receive an application for a commercial project, send out our completed plan review letter with the necessary comments and corrections, and then not receive any reply or corrected resubmittal from the design professional or applicant for over two months. When we do receive them, we can again review the plans in a week or two, but very often many of the comments were not addressed, so we start the process again-delay from the designer, review again, and then approval for permit issuance. In the public works engineering review process, that same thing typically happens. So, the only valid survey question would be to determine the total time spent in review by the jurisdiction, not the total time from application to permit issuance. All of the time out of our control should not be included in the survey results. However, if you wanted to show the whole picture, the survey would show the total jurisdiction time, AND the total time that was under the control of the applicant. Also, the survey needs to be broken down into typical categories-such as single family dwellings, multi-family projects of various sizes, commercial projects of various sizes and types, and further broken down to either include or exclude site plan review time, planning review, fire department review, SEPA review, etc. Unfortunately, without all of those questions being asked, the information received is meaningless.
Corey Schmidt

Skagit County
I agree (with) John (Neff) but I have a bad habit of answering questions with another question: What is the objective of the survey? For instance, I can give you the average number of days it takes to "get" a permit in Skagit County - 29. [Note – Bill Dowe replied: "The median number of days elapsed between application and approval is 29 for building permits that go through plan review. The sample used is the first 720 permits issued in 2001"]. Some permits are issued over the counter, same day. Some permits take 6 months because of all the reasons John has identified and more. What purpose does this information serve? Depends on how you want to use it and for some of us we might determine that 29 days is too long and we need more resources or we need to be more efficient - budget or management tools - but this would be wrong. As John has demonstrated, the variables are many and the question should be specific. I suspect MRSC is looking for averages so, in Skagit County the median is 29 days. That could mean a simple residential furnace installation or it could mean a 60, 000 square foot office building (obviously w/o SEPA). You just don't know what type of permit we're including because the question is generalized and so the survey is inconclusive. This just wouldn't serve our customers who are banking on specific turn-around times. Sorry.
Bridget Smith

Seems we need more parameters. Single family or commercial, what size of commercial, SEPA or no, just first review or issued permit (this depends greatly on the applicants response and quality of work), only the time in the City or also counting the days in the applicants hands, land use, change of occupancy, critical areas, appealable, expedited, etc. It almost seems to get more usable info, we would need to set it up so we know we are comparing apples with apples. I know this was a problem when I asked the group about a year ago...
Richard Hart

Mercer Island
The City of Mercer Island has an internal performance goal that 80% of all building permits are issued within 60 days of submittal of a complete application. This assumes there is no additional information needed or identified as a result of the review. If there is such a need, then the clock stops until the additional information is submitted. We also have an express permit for small jobs such as decks or storage buildings, which are issued within 30 days. We have found that we actually accomplish or exceed our goal of issuing 80% of the permits within the 60 days. The only caveat is during the 3 summer months when the work load is extra heavy or if we have unusual absences or sick leave from our plan checker, building official or drainage engineer or development engineer.
Lavina Streeter

Residential takes approx. two to four weeks if the submittal is complete and accurate. Which it seems most are these days, because most builders do not build prescriptive houses per the UBC, so they are required to be engineered. (These are lots in recently plated plats. Older platted lots take approximately three to four months depending on site specific issue if any i.e., sensitive areas, utilities available, access to site etc. Commercial permits appear to take a variation of time lines dependant on the format the developer chooses for there submittal, meaning the choices you have are that similar to McDonalds. You can have the full meal deal which would be a simultaneous review of all applications/approvals the purposed project would require (which could be Site Plan, SEPA, Conditional Use Permit if needed, Building Permit, Design Review, Clearing and Grading permit, Utility permits, Site Civil/utility approved construction etc.) or you could have the Piece Meal format which would be Site Plan and SEPA approval. Then apply for each needed approval separately so on and so forth. While hopping the first Approval received dose not expire, and that all future items have been covered in the original SEPA. With the above in mind turn around time could vary from 6 months to 5 years.
Marlia Jenkins

Clark County

Staff examined existing information on elapsed time and formulated new goals. The goal reflects the differences in caseload throughout the year and the existing number of plans examiners. If caseload increases or decreases substantially, or the number of examiners changes, the goals should be reassessed.

Non Peak Load Peak Load

September to March April through August

Actual Goal Actual Goal

Single family residential 14 10 25 20

Multifamily residential 30 20 35 25

Commercial alteration 30 20 35 25

Commercial under 10,000 sf 30 20 35 25

Commercial over 10,000 sft 30 25 45 35