Speedy permitting has developers turning ‘green’ in Chicago

November 18, 2005 |

Anyone who’s built anything in the Windy City—or in another city, for that matter—knows how painfully arduous the permitting process can be. Even the most carefully planned submittals can take months to review by permit inspectors and code officials. Each day means a dollar lost in the minds of developers.

As part of Mayor Daley’s ongoing green crusade, the city has transformed the permitting process into an incentive for developers to go green. Projects that are designed to EnergyStar or LEED standards or better (and also meet certain city requirements) will get permitted in just six weeks. That’s two months faster than the average permit process, says Erik Olsen, green projects administrator, Department of Construction and Permits, who personally processes all green permitting.

“The department averages 90-100 calendar days for permits, but it’s not unusual for permits to take four months,” says Olsen.

Olsen says he is able to expedite the process for projects participating in the city’s Green Permit Program by only taking on 10-20 projects at a time, compared to the 50-60 permit requests handled at any given time by other employees in the department.

“I spend a lot more time with the projects and am able to be very responsive to help them get their permits faster,” says Olsen. “For instance, when projects go to other city departments for review, they’ll jump to the front of the line.”

To qualify for the Green Permit Program, the building must meet specific requirements, based on the size, type, and location of the structure (see table opposite page). Market-rate multifamily developments, for instance, must be designed to achieve a LEED Certified rating. In comparison, multifamily developments that include at least 20% affordable housing only have to meet EnergyStar Design standards, as well as incorporate one additional feature from a green “wish list” created by the department. The list includes everything from green roofs to renewable energy to developing in blighted areas of the city.   

The city provides additional financial incentive for developers that go beyond the minimum green requirements by waiving all independent code consultant fees associated with the permit (the city requires developers of medium- and large-sized projects to pay for an independent code review). Olsen says these fees can range from $5,000 to $50,000, depending on the size, type, and complexity of the project. “It’s incentive to go a little bit greener,” he says.     

Speedy permitting has become popular among jurisdictions nationwide for residential construction, but Chicago is one of the first to include nonresidential construction projects.

Olsen says of the 10 projects that have gone through the program thus far, at least one developer is considering going green on another project based, in part, on the benefits of the program.

“They were so pleased with how well everything went, the owner’s rep. said the existence of the Green Permit Program will weigh heavily into their decision to go green again,” says Olsen. “Which is the whole purpose of the program.”

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