Thursday, November 14, 2002

Jumping through city hoops

It appears I'll have to dig out my old Rolodex. After we elected a strong mayor who hired a stronger city manager, I didn't transfer all the numbers in my private City Hall directory to my new Palm Pilot.

Surely, I thought, I will no longer need the unlisted number for the Bureau of Screwups and Red Tape. Which, by the way, used to ring directly into the Office of the Agency for Sending Business Across the River. If that line was busy, I would automatically be transferred to the Norwood Substation of Retailers Hoping to Sell Merchandise to Cincinnatians Without Actually Having to Locate There.

These contacts came in handy earlier when I had questions about new restaurants and shops and movie theaters.

Ancient history

City Manager Valerie Lemmie asked building inspectors last April whether the city had a "one-stop shop" for permits. You could hear guffawing as far away as Blue Ash and parts of West Chester and Florence.

And you know what we do when there's a problem. We hire a consultant to reassure us that a genuine problem does exist. He reports to a volunteer committee of well-meaning citizens who have more important fish to fry and whose jobs do not depend on the outcome.

This takes time and money. And we pretend to have both.

A consultant recently presented evidence that a city building permit stops 473 times on its route to completion. This was no surprise to Dr. Elliot Kirstein, an optometrist who has been trying to put a rather nice little office in Oakley Square. Trying and trying and trying would be, I believe, his account of this process.

Very trying.

In May of last year, he and his partners bought a building - about 1,000 square feet, right next to a Laundromat. They had an architect draw up plans to increase the space to 2,400 square feet. While they were at it, the optometrists decided to give the place a makeover. Right now, it's a white stucco sore thumb in the midst of brick and limestone.

You'd think somebody might have flung an arm around his shoulder and led him through the process. After all, he's not an invading alien. He's a potential customer. Who could take his business elsewhere.

"Everybody," he says, "has been courteous and helpful. But the process is arduous and confusing. And no one person can give you an answer."

He passed along a pile of correspondence involving, among others, Transportation, Urban Forestry and the Oakley Environmental Quality District. I love brick lintels and Imperial Honeylocust trees as much as the next person, but it seems like the city is asking Dr. Kirstein to jump a lot of hoops for the privilege of upgrading a former gas station.

"They're saying we'll get approval any day now," he says. He has heard this many times.

City Manager Lemmie said streamlining economic development would require a "culture change" at City Hall.

Changing a whole culture sounds like it might take a long time.

Meanwhile, the phones are ringing in Norwood and Newport.

E-mail or phone 768-8393.

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