PERMIT US: City works to ease notorious permit process

At the city of Aurora’s Permit Center — which is the arm of city government businesses have to contact when they want to expand or homeowners reach out to when they’re ready to remodel their basement — officials are aiming to make the rendezvous with Aurora bureaucrats a little easier

AURORA | Everybody can think of some grueling interaction with local government that they wish they could just avoid.

Maybe it’s that long line of grumpy people at the DMV, or a testy clerk when you just want to pay a traffic ticket.

For some in the business community, the trip to city hall to pull a building permit could be pretty high on that list of dread-worthy municipal engagements.

At the city of Aurora’s Permit Center — which is the arm of city government businesses have to contact when they want to expand or homeowners reach out to when they’re ready to remodel their basement — officials are aiming to make the rendezvous with Aurora bureaucrats a little easier.

Early this month the center launched a series of enhancements to their website — including an online chat option for people who don’t want to call on the phone and definitely don’t want to schlep themselves to second floor of city hall — aimed at getting permits into business owners’ hands as smoothly as possible.

Tod Kuntzelman, manager of the center, said the goal is to make sure every customer finishes their interaction with a permit, but without one of those municipal horror stories.

“If they don’t have a story to tell other than ‘Hey, it was pretty great or it was better than I thought it was going to be,’ that is a huge win for us,” he said.

The improvements to the website, which can be seen at AuroraGov.org/Building, are part of a broader effort by city officials to make the permitting process easier. The Permit Center also has a dedicated call center that answers every call within 30 seconds on average, offers a “skip the trip” option that allows the whole process to be completed online, flat fees for many permit types and no deposits to start a plan review or permitted project.

Cathy Kennedy, the office manager at Titan Construction in Englewood, said she was shocked at how easy getting a permit was when she recently pulled the company’s first here.

Kennedy said she had heard from other people with experience in Aurora that getting a permit here could be difficult.

But in just a couple days — and without having to leave her office — she said she easily snagged the permit for an electrical job. She said her boss asked her to go pick it up and was shocked when five minutes later she sent him the permit that city officials had emailed her.

“Aurora has been by far the easiest,” she said.
The permit office doesn’t have the grim reputation of some less-than-popular government interactions — think the post office on a December afternoon or the DMV when a crush of motorists look to renew plates at the beginning of the month.

But Kuntzelman said he knows the customers pulling a permit likely aren’t looking forward to the process.

That’s why it’s crucial to meet them where they are. For some, a phone call is best, so the call center answers calls quickly and doesn’t leave people on hold for long stretches or voicemails unreturned.

For others, the website is ideal but they need to get a quick response if they run into problems, so the chat option fills that.

And still for others, Kuntzelman said walking into the Municipal Center, meeting someone face-to-face and physically pulling a permit is simply what they prefer. The online option is not going to replace all of it,” he said. “We need to have all of these ways into the city to meet our customers needs.”