By Austin Regan
The DOB’s long touted upgrade of their computer filing is way behind schedule. Mandatory use of the new DOB NOW filing system for limited applications (sprinkler & plumbing only) was supposed to begin in the fall. The DOB did roll out the program but made participation voluntary, not mandatory. The reason for the change was because of industry concerns with the process and flaws with the program model.
The goal for the creators of this program was to make a computer based filing process that could lead a filing novice step by step through the creation of all the documentation necessary to successfully get an application filed without any expert help (i.e code consultants or expeditors). What the computer software creators have discovered is the filing process is far more complicated then they anticipated and the computer cannot easily replace human knowledge and experience.
All of the initiatives the DOB has initiated in recent years have had the underlying goal of reducing or eliminating human interaction with the industries and public it serves. Whether it be the virtual plan exams that the HUB filing system encourages or the e-mail only interaction with the inspection divisions of Inspection Ready, the DOB’s ultimate goal seems to be never have to see or speak to those who are responsible for feeding the job creation engine which is the construction industry.
Not only is filing an application a complicated process but designing a building to meet code and zoning requirements is complex, too. So are the logistics of actually getting these buildings built. Working with complicated sites, and incorporating new technologies and uses that the code and zoning resolution did not anticipate always require us to reach out to the DOB to request interpretations or variances from statutes. Traditionally code consultants would help architects and owners craft language to present a reconsideration package. An appointment would be set with the commissioner. The merits of the reconsideration would be discussed and the commissioner would make a decision.
The DOB did away with that process and instituted the Determination process. The reconsideration package would still be created but now it is submitted electronically. It is reviewed by a code or zoning specialist. The specialist’s findings are then presented to a group of DOB officials chosen by the Borough Commissioner. They discuss the merits of the case and then the commissioner makes a decision.
While the idea of having multiple parties review the request is theoretically good there is one party that is not involved at all in the discussion – the party that is making the request. There is no chance to make an argument for your request. With no chance to present your point of view the once straight forward process of the reconsideration has evolved into a determination mess. The time frame for getting written answers from the DOB cannot be predicted. When the answer does arrive there is a good chance the DOB’s response does not even address the question asked. Tremendous amounts of everyone’s time is wasted because of the Department’s resistance to meet with the consultants.
A simple 10 minute presentation to the round table that discusses these issues could solve the inefficiency of this current system. Unfortunately that seems to go against the Department’s apparent goal of eliminating the human interface. Computers are great but they cannot replace the experience and creativity of the consultants that get the buildings built in this city. While we applaud the DOB’s efforts to upgrade their technology, we ask that they do not hide behind that technology to avoid the inevitable human interactions so necessary to ensure a robust construction economy.