03 August 2009

The Permit Office, or Fool Me Once, Shame on You, Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me

I went down to the city development office again today. I had to take my car to the dealership first and made it to the city offices right at 8, when they opened. The last time we were there, we were sent from floor to floor for different things, so I didn't quite remember where I needed to go for the permit. (The directory by the elevators, as another woman in the waiting room this morning pointed out, is entirely unhelpful.) I seemed to think the fifth floor was right, but when I arrived, it didn't look familiar. I went to an office where I thought the receptionist might be able to point me in the right direction. To my surprise, she told me I was in the right place for a demolition permit and that I needed to talk to "Lonnie," who had just called to say she was going to be about 15 minutes late. Now, we had been to the permit office before (and waited for TWO HOURS to be helped), and I knew this wasn't it, but the receptionist spoke with such authority that I thought maybe they had shuffled things around. I think being first in line for Lonnie also threw me off my game -- that was certainly not the experience we had last time, and it was a welcome departure.

However, as time went on (and Lonnie didn't arrive at 8:15, or even 8:20), I decided I should look for permit office I knew. I found the Development Assistance Office on the second floor and signed in at 8:26.

I need to digress for a minute and explain that, as much as I believe that the City of Austin tries to be a leader in development and government in general, they know nothing about efficient customer service. The last time we were there, we were within our option period to buy the property and just wanted to talk to someone to get questions answered and confirm that our plans to rebuild were feasible. We arrived around 8:05 and told the receptionist the purpose for our visit. She put us on the "Zoning" waiting list (one of three lists) and wrote in the comments section, "McMansion" (that's the nickname for a fairly new and complex set of rules in Austin residential building that prevents the construction of, well, McMansions). We had a whole variety of questions, so we weren't sure why she chose to list that specifically. After waiting for perhaps an hour and a half, we learned that this was because there was only one person trained to handle McMansion questions, and while we were in the main "zoning" line (not that any of our questions had much to do with zoning), we had to wait specifically for this one person. Accordingly, people who arrived after us were helped before we were, and we found ourselves with two hours to contemplate how arriving five minutes earlier -- and getting on the list before at least some of the dozen or so people ahead of us -- would have saved us at least an hour of waiting.

So, in planning this visit to the permit office (the same office that put us on the "zoning" list last time), I was relieved to know that I would be on a less crowded list this time. Little did I know that not only was I going to spend half an hour in the wrong place before even getting on the list, but when I finally got to the right place, I landed back on the same "zoning" list. (Apparently the much less crowded "permitting" list is for commercial permits. How silly of me not to know that.) If I just wanted to drop off my application, I could do that without waiting, but I wanted to be sure everything was in order. (I was also hoping that I might be able to walk out with my permit.) And despite being about sixth on the list, the receptionist assured me that I was next in line for Bryan, the demolition permit guy.

AN HOUR LATER, the person ahead of me finally finished up. I think Bryan must have gone out to the site to actually lend a hand in demolishing something. Another ten minutes later (I guess Bryan had to clean up after his morning on the job site), I finally presented my application to Bryan, who took two minutes to accept my materials, confirm that everything was in order, and tell me that the permit would be ready in about five days.

I finally arrived at work at 10, three hours late. I blame the city 100% for the delays this morning, but I also recognize that my sense of urgency (including the reason I wanted to be sure the application was accepted the first time) was due to dragging my feet a little getting to this point. Knowing this inspired me to get in touch with the engineer who is going to design our foundation and engineer some longer beam spans in the house. I also left a message for the geotechnical company that is probably going to take soil samples and prepare a soil report for the engineer, and we scheduled another meeting with our designer on Wednesday. All in all, a few steps forward, and no steps back. Not a bad day.

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