Amid construction boom, Department of Buildings updates its system to make renovations (a little) easier


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Nope, you're not imagining it—there is construction everywhere in the city. In fact, construction of new buildings is at an all-time high, with more than 40,000 ongoing projects across the city. "Certain parts of Brooklyn, on the Long Island City waterfront and certain parts of Lower Manhattan are very, very busy," New York City Buildings Department commissioner Rick Chandler told WNYC's Brian Lehrer late last month. Work is also "picking up" in the Bronx, he says. (In fact, Chandler says, construction is the second largest driver of the New York City economy after the financial industry.)

To keep things running smoothly, the DOB has introduced a $29.6 million computer system dubbed DOB Now. The goal: To streamline the department's paper-only filing system into an all-digital platform. It will be possible to file building and construction permits online, track applications, conduct virtual meetings with DOB staff, and print permits at home.

Chandler said the DOB is  "looking to streamline the bureaucracy and make it easier for companies involved in construction sites to do the business they need to."

Alexander Schnell, a spokesman for the DOB, explains the changes taking place:  "The department undertook two major reform initiatives this past year. The first related to enforcement enhancements to crack down on unsafe construction practices. The DOB also rolled out our new online service platform earlier this summer, which will allow all parties, from owners to contractors, that are involved in a project to see the status of the permit application at each step of the approval process."

The reason? "The transparency within the new online system ensures that owners are able to hold their design professionals and contractors accountable for the timely submission of plans and amendment," says Schnell. That means that you can see what—if anything—is really holding your contractor up. In the past, you'd have to rely on the construction professionals for updates on the status of an application, but you can now do that in real time. All in all, ditching the paper filing system should help speed up projects.

Wayne Bellet of Bellet Construction, who's been in the business for around 40 years, says he's impressed the DoB is evolving. "I'm encouraged that they're making improvements," he says. Regarding safety enhancements, Bellet says the number of random safety inspections he's seen at job sites has tripled (it now hangs around 45 percent).

"You hear these horror stories occasionally about the buildings department, but I've found them to be very fair," he says.

Listen below to the Brian Lehrer segment: