Pr. George’s signs pact with parks and planning group, WSSC to simplify permitting

Obtaining a license or permit to build in Prince George’s County used to be a headache-filled process that would stretch on for weeks.

Last year, County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) set out to change that, ordering his department heads to consolidate nine agencies into a streamlined “one-stop shop” known as the Department of Permitting, Inspection and Enforcement.

On Wednesday, the county signed an agreement to use that office to provide permitting services for those required by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

Bringing those agencies, which work outside the county government, into the county’s permitting process will help make Prince George’s even more efficient compared with other jurisdictions, officials said.

“I truly believe the working relationship with the building industry has improved,” said Chuck Wagner, president of the Maryland-National Capital Building Industry Association, who appeared at the signing event. If builders can break ground on projects sooner, he added, “it saves us money and captures money for the county.”


County Executive Rushern Baker (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Making the process faster and easier fulfills a campaign promise Baker made before taking office in 2010.

Large developers as well as small-business owners had long complained that obtaining approval to build in Prince George’s required them to travel to multiple offices, where various bureaucrats would review the same plans and make sometimes contradictory, and sometimes duplicative, recommendations.

“We needed to change the culture of how business was done in Prince George’s County,” County Council Chairman Mel Franklin (D-Upper Marlboro) said at the signing ceremony, at the Largo headquarters of the new department. “To make government better, we must be more efficient.”

The effort dovetails with Baker’s vision of creating a more business-friendly county that can offer “the greatest economic opportunity” in the region, said Nicholas Majett, his chief administrative officer.

Montgomery County created a similarly streamlined operation in 1996, and the District followed suit more recently, during a period when Majett was the city’s director of consumer and regulatory affairs.

But neither Montgomery nor the District has forged partnerships like the one Prince George’s announced Wednesday, which lets builders get their utility, environmental and site plan reviews at the same time as they navigate the county-run permitting agencies, county officials said.

Haitham A. Hijazi, director of the consolidated permitting department, said his first step in setting up his agency was visiting the District to study its customer-service model.

He also met weekly with representatives from all of the county permitting operations — including code enforcement, business licensing, site planners, environmental stewardship and the health department — that were being consolidated, ironing out differences and making sure that all employees were trained in the new way of doing business.

Many steps were automated so that commercial and residential plans could be uploaded electronically, enabling reviewer to access them simultaneously.

That step saved “lots of agony,” Hijazi said.

Arelis Hernández covers Prince George’s County as part of The Washington Post's local staff.
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