District of Columbia officials are to act today to end long and costly delays in issuing building permits, thereby heading off criticism on a potential political issue.
Lorenzo Jacobs, director of the Department of Housing and Community Development, is expected to sign an order eliminating the need for city employes to review mechanical and architectural specifications and plans before granting a building permit.
Under the order, if the plans are certified by a registered engineer or architect, the permit can be issued on the spot.
Professional certification of electrical and structural plans has been accepted by the District for some time, but until now the main drawings had to be approved by city inspectors.
Delays in issuing permits have stretched from weeks into months of late because of the construction boom in the District and a freeze on District department budgets.
While the number of building permit applications has soared, the number of people reviewing them has gone down.
Builders began camplaining months ago that plans were gathering dust waiting for city review while the clock was running on construction loans. On the multi-million-dollar projects that have suddenly become common-place in the District, each tick of the clock cost thousands of dollars.
Businessmen complained bitterly that it was typical of the bureaucratic delays and red tape that have stiffled and frustrated private growth in the District.
Legislation permitting professional certification that plans comply with the building code was to have been introduced before the D.C City Council in September. But Corporation Counsel Lou Robbins found the same action could be accomplished by executive order.
The executive order keeps the issue out of the council chambers, where political opponents of the Mayor Walter Washington might have blamed the mayor for stymying private development.
The council, however, probably is as much to blame as the mayor for creating the problem. Cutting the budget for building permit administration in the face of an obvious increase in permit applications could do nothing but cause delays.
City government moved earlier this summer on related problem - the district's archaic requirement that only official government surveyors survey land here. That requirement, dating from the days when the king's surveyer was the only one trusted on land matters, long has been abandoned by Virginia, Maryland and most of the rest of America.
Now private surveyers can set up their transits in the District of Columbia so land buyers and sellers won't have to wait for the D.C surveyers to come around.
Neither of these actions is important enough to win an election or even generate a political contribution for the mayor, but both indicate the District government is listening to the demands of business, and moving to eliminate red tape.