By Lucas High — 

BOULDER — Boulder’s development-review and permitting process is often cumbersome for businesses to operate and can lead to unnecessary and expensive project delays, according to results of a recent survey of Boulder Chamber members. 

“Our business community will face catastrophic losses due to COVID-19,” Boulder Chamber senior director of policy programs Lori Call said in a statement accompanying the Chamber’s survey summary. “As we navigate this crisis, we need to ensure that Boulder remains a welcoming place for business to operate by reducing costs due to unnecessary delays in development review and permitting procedures.”

The survey, aimed at pinpointing opportunities to streamline the development process, found:

  • 87% of respondents claim that permitting takes “much longer” in Boulder compared with other cities.
  • 67% said the faced ““much higher” building costs in Boulder due, in part, to city fees.
  • Despite the ongoing concerns, respondents acknowledged significant improvements in city processes over the past 18 months, and the response time for initial feedback on a project has improved by 50%.
  • Aurora, Arvada, Westminster and Thornton were cited by respondents as cities with more-efficient permitting and project-review systems. 

“The city is currently exploring ways to reduce processing time to support local businesses. In the next few weeks, further discussion will take place as we consider the best options to streamline these processes,” Mary Ann Weideman, interim director of Planning and Development Services, told BizWest in an email.

The complexity of Boulder’s city code, land-use tables, and permitting and development-review processes can leave developers scratching their heads, the survey found. Respondents called for planning staffers to “be empowered to make more decisions in order to help navigate one of the more complex regulatory codes in the nation.”

Respondents also complained that staffers’ expertise is often questioned or ignored by decision-makers on Boulder’s Planning Board and City Council. 

“Recently the city announced the formation of a new Planning and Development Services Department. This new department will merge the functions of the former Planning Department and Public Works Development Services Division,” Weideman This change was made through the lens of operational excellence, with a focus on clarifying and streamlining decision-making, work prioritization and project implementation. Being operationally excellent promotes service excellence by creating consistent and predictable processes and systems that provide a high level of service to all community members, including small businesses.”

Chamber leaders, while recognizing that additional streamlining steps are necessary, have applauded the city staffers’ willingness to engage with the business and development community.

“It’s been a great partnership,” the Boulder Chamber’s Call said.

“We are eager to partner with City of Boulder leadership in reducing unnecessary costs for our businesses,” Call said in a statement. “This is a chance to work together to help support the COVID-19 recovery efforts and to expedite the return to economic vitality.”

Featured in BizWest – April 13, 2020