Limited and Open Government

A New Model for Building Permits Shows a Bright Future

Ryan Vance is a Policy Research intern with the Libertas Institute, a free-market think tank in Utah. He is currently working on a Master’s degree in Political Psychology through Arizona State University.

Utah is an amazing place to live and work! Rated third in the nation for economic growth and holding the fastest population growth rate in the country, the need for more real estate is increasing at an explosive rate.  

For those wanting to build commercially, one of the more prominent holdups is obtaining a building permit. Even in the development-friendly state of Utah, places like Brigham City take a couple of weeks on average to process a commercial permit application and approve the builder. Additionally, the amount of time to approve a permit varies based on the size of the business itself. 

This creates quite a delay for business owners who are anxious to get their company running.  But what if there was a better way? What if we could streamline the permit process for all potential businesses across the board and foster a system that promotes even faster creation and innovation. Is such a thing possible? Yes, says Phoenix, Arizona.

Now known as a “24-hour city,” Phoenix has implemented a system in which most potential business owners can start the application process for a building permit and (as the nickname implies) receive approval in less than 24 hours. The outline of the process is essentially that a business owner can walk into a permit office with their plans, walk out with a permit, immediately begin construction, and if they call a building inspector before 10 pm, get the building process inspected and approved the very next day. 

Many factors were responsible for making this process possible. One component being the implementation of a “self-certification” model. After architects and engineers go through the proper city training in the use of this certification, the building application process becomes a relatively easy one. Additionally, it’s become even more convenient over the years with the applicable permits and forms being made available online.

The creation of this convenient process was only possible through the combined efforts of public servants and private citizens alike, all of who gave their personal expertise in order to form a workable solution.

And the positive results associated with the new permit system have been staggering! In 2020, the shutdowns associated with COVID-19 created some drastic economic ramifications including a devastating drop in home and commercial construction across the United States. 

Maricopa County (which encompasses Phoenix), in defiance to this trend, managed a 20 percent increase in building permit usage during that same time period. This shows impressive economic strength that only comes through lowering restrictions.

That being said, the implementation of this program has not been perfect. In an interview with an employee who works in the permit process, he professed that it’s been nigh on impossible to maintain the 24 hour standard during the pandemic shutdowns. However, it was notable to mention that even with all of the confusion wrought by the pandemic, the permit process still managed to run more efficiently than it had prior to the establishment of the 24-hour standard. 

Often, especially in times of emergency, there seems to be an expectation for an extension of government power, and with it, more restrictions and bureaucratic tape, all in hopes that the problem can be solved with greater intervention. 

But that’s just not realistic. Limitations stifle innovation, especially in the times we need innovation the most. This “24-hour” system goes to show how effectively things can run in spite of extenuating circumstances. When barriers are decreased and freedoms are increased for businesses and citizens alike, room is made for adaptation and growth in the face of crisis.