Permits cause Brooklyn new development delays

Developers trying to sustain and ride the Brooklyn boom say slowdowns in paperwork may hobble growth in the borough.

Delays by the Department of Buildings have stretched project approval times from the three- to four-week standard of the mid-1990s to as long as six months, said veteran developer Isaac Katan.

Other builders and architects echo his complaint, and bemoan the added costs of delays, which they ascribe to high volumes of paperwork and the system-clogging behavior of expediters, agents paid by developers who are supposed to speed up the bureaucratic process for them.

“The clock runs on construction loans and initial acquisition costs,” said developer Josh Guberman. “You’re paying out money while waiting for your permit to be issued. That can’t be good for business.”

Ilyse Fink, a building department spokeswoman, said the average time for Brooklyn project evaluations is shorter than Manhattan requests, and speedier than in the Bronx.

“It takes an average of 10 days for a new building plan to be filed, data entered, assigned to plan review and examined in Brooklyn,” she said.

Count Karl Fischer among the skeptics.

One project had the architect tussling with plan examiners for 10 months before it was finally approved last year. Fischer said the process shouldn’t take more than two months, but concedes that the development community may be a victim of its own success.

“Brooklyn has too many projects and too few staff,” he said.

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Fischer said the department is simply “overloaded with work,” making it difficult to make appointments with the plan examiners.

Guberman said the building department’s workload in the borough has tripled over the past five years without a corresponding increase in people and resources. The infrastructure in place at the department “hasn’t got a fair shot” at handling the larger workload, he says.

“There’s a direct correlation between the volume of work that’s coming to the desks of these plan examiners and their ability to turn out and approve plans,” he said. “It’s simply untenable to maintain the same schedule and the same turnaround time for three or five times the business.”

He predicts the problem of delays is set to get worse, considering that Brooklyn has been receiving more applications than Manhattan since the first half of 2004.

Developers also said some of the blame lies with expediters, who are hired to assist architects and owners in securing approvals from the buildings department.

Katan called expediters the major cause of delays and accused them of collusion with unscrupulous architects in creating problems. He said the expediters clog up the system with blind appointments in the department’s Borough Hall offices, not tied to specific plans, then sell the appointments to colluding architects eager to secure speedy approvals.

In the past two months, the buildings department has moved to check the abuse by banning blind appointments and requiring that every appointment specify the particular project plan to be seen by the plan examiners. Katan said the changes will improve the situation.

Fischer said he worries the new system might actually make things worse, especially the elimination of walk-in appointments, which he said might create longer waiting times to secure appointments with plan examiners.

Engineer Scott Schnall, who runs a Brooklyn-based expediting firm, agreed. He said the new regime, which eliminates the walk-ins and relies on a telephone system for making appointments, has already caused appointments to start running one month behind and has doubled the time it takes to get approvals.