HONOLULU (KHON2) — The City is taking steps to resolve long delays in the building permit process, a temporary professional self-certification law for certain developments was recently passed as a way to speed up the permit application time, but some in the building industry see it as a last resort. 

Get Hawaii’s latest morning news delivered to your inbox, sign up for News 2 You

Severe understaffing at the Department of Planning and Permitting, a bribery scandal and outdated technology are some of the reasons why the City said it could take at least six months for a building permit to be issued. 

The Grassroots Institute of Hawaii Executive Vice President Joe Kent said they are in support of the new law that sunsets in four years. 

“This is almost an embarrassment about how long it takes to get a permit through, sometimes six months to a year,” Kent said. “And if you’re trying to start a business or build a home or something, that’s just too long, especially when we need so many houses.”

Licensed architects and engineers can apply to self-certify projects that are compliant with all relevant codes, City staff would then double-check the certification. 

Qualifying projects include affordable housing smaller apartment projects, apartment and business mixed-use also known as Bill 7 projects. As well as commercial tenant improvements and DHHL projects. 

In a statement, the DPP Director Dawn Takeuchi Apuna said this new law could help alleviate the permitting backlog. 

“Bill 6 provides an option to licensed architects and engineers who are willing and capable of self-certifying eligible projects as compliant with all relevant codes, rather than coming through DPP for permit approval.  The three eligible projects under Bill 6 are Bill 7 projects, which are affordable housing smaller apartment projects in the apartment, apartment mixed-use, and business mixed-use zoning districts; commercial tenant improvements; and DHHL projects.  

Not just any and all design professionals will qualify. Through the administrative rulemaking process, which is the next step of implementation, DPP will require training, insurance coverage, and a solid track record of submitting good plans to DPP to be eligible to self-certify.

 Bill 6 can eliminate a portion of the backlog by allowing eligible design professionals to self-certify their projects outside of the DPP permitting process.  Bill 7 projects provide much needed infill affordable housing and commercial tenant improvements make up a significant portion of our commercial projects. 

 Ultimately, we are working on eliminating the permitting backlog by fundamentally adding the necessary capacity, streamlining processes, and using technology to accelerate permitting.  Bill 6 will provide an alternative and some relief while these major changes progress.”

Meanwhile, the Complete Construction Services Corp. Owner Greg Thielen said the self-certification is a last resort for them. He said he would rather have the City’s DPP approve plans and issue permits, but the backlog is taking more than a year for some permits to be issued. 

“We don’t want self-certification, we don’t like self-certification but we need to get building permits in a timely fashion,” Thielen said. “By law, seven projects are supposed to be permitted within 90 days but our last project took about 17 months.”

Download the free KHON2 app for iOS or Android to stay informed on the latest news

Besides having a strong track record of submitting good plans, those interested in self-certifying would also need at least one certificate of occupancy and at least two DPP building permits for affordable housing projects under their belt. Those provisions significantly dwindle the pool of potential applicants.