Richmond’s planning officials have slashed sometimes monthslong delays in granting building permits, city records show.

Permits that sometimes languished in queues awaiting processing for 50 to 55 days at the start of 2022 have been rolling out after an average wait of one to three days since the summer.

Delays for residential and commercial building permits fell below five days in April and have stayed at about a day since July, Department of Planning and Development data shows.

Permits for mechanical, plumbing and electrical work dropped from 50-day delays to 20 to 25 days by spring and to one to three days from August on.

“It’s been a concerted effort,” said Chief Administrative Officer Lincoln Saunders.

The result is a drop in the number of permits requested but awaiting officials’ approval from a peak of nearly 1,200 in early January to 100 or fewer since August.

“That’s about what we can move through in a week,” Saunders said.

Site plan reviews are also moving: City officials have been processing these in 14 business days, better than their goal of 15 days, while processing special use permits, which allow developers to do projects that vary from the city’s zoning rules, as long as they follow case-by-case, city-set requirements. Those are taking 75 days, as opposed to the city’s internal target of 90 days.

“We’ve been looking for bottlenecks … things like who’s emailing who, how things move from office to office,” said Kevin J. Vonck, director of the Planning and Development Department.

Hiring 71 employees since July 2021, contracting with a third party for plan review services and setting up a customer service division have also helped.

While complaints about the time it takes to get a permit through have been a constant for decades, delays have become worse with Richmond’s building boom, Saunders said.

On top of that, a number of planning staff who were retiring and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic made it all the more difficult to manage the flood of permit applications, he said. But by slashing the backlog, Saunders said the city should be able to maintain the current, faster turnaround times for permit applications.

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