By David Wells, AIA
Representatives of the AIA Pittsburgh Advocacy Committee and AIA-MBA Joint Committee recently held a meeting with the City of Pittsburgh’s Department of Permits, Licenses, and Inspections (PLI). Both committees have been meeting periodically with PLI to learn about changes being implemented and to discuss challenges that our members are facing. PLI shared the following changes / improvements:
Staff Changes: PLI noted that (2) staff have retired, however they have added (2) Plan Reviewers and (5) Residential Inspectors. The added Inspectors will allow the current ones to focus on Commercial Projects. They are looking to fill an additional role for a Plan Reviewer. Plan Reviewers are receiving 6 months of training.
New Group: PLI has promoted (2) staff and created a Construction Management Group. There are now (2) new Construction Supervisors.
Accelerated Reviews: PLI has increased the permits that are available for accelerated reviews to include Mechanical and Electrical Permits that do not require Zoning review. This also includes Fire Alarm and Fire Suppression System Permits.
Exterior Work: PLI noted that the applications for permits have a checkbox to indicate when the scope of work includes exterior work. Checking this box is important when the scope of work includes exterior work because that notifies PLI that A Zoning permit is required. For projects without exterior work, the exterior box does not need to be checked and no Zoning permit for that discipline is required.
Plan Review: PLI launched Preliminary Plan Review Meetings in October 2022 – an option that AIA had requested. These meetings are an opportunity for Design Professionals, Contractors, and Owners to review complex projects or projects with unique aspects prior to the submission for Permitting.
OneStopPGH Improvements: PLI is continuing to work to improve the OneStopPGH platform. They will be sending out a Customer Survey later this year and encouraged AIA and MBA members to share their experiences. Specifically, they are working to improve the user experience with such updates as:
- Interface for phone/ tablet (currently the system is only optimized for computers / laptops)
- Introduction of multiple languages
- Ability to hover over a term and an explanation box appears
Inspection Simplification: PLI is looking to add the ability for virtual inspections in some cases late this year or early next year. This would begin with Residential Inspections and then expand to some Commercial Inspections. PLI has worked to simplify Inspections. Accessibility now has only Rough and Final Inspections.
Additional Items which have been accomplished in collaboration with the committees and PLI:
Phased Project Submissions: Projects with phasing that is delineated on the drawings may be submitted for permit as a single set of documents as long as there is no change of use. PLI noted that the submission must include separate life safety plans for each phase.
Amended Permits: PLI has added a fee calculator for Amended Permits. Fees are based on the delta cost change of the amended scope of work. PLI noted that Amended permits need to be applied for by the permit holder, then revert back to the initial applicant to reply to comments.
Pre-inspection Meetings: PLI is encouraging Contractors to schedule Pre-Inspection Meetings on-site with the Inspector. This will give the Contractor and the Inspector an opportunity to discuss the progress of the project, any phasing, and other specific aspects of the project to improve efficiency for the Inspections.
Zoning Permits (ZDRs): Zoning Permits are required for site work and the construction of new buildings and exterior renovations to existing buildings. Separate ZDRs are also required for Mechanical and Electrical work that includes exterior scope. PLI noted that all ZDRs can be applied for at the same time to assist in a timely review. The AIA and AIA-MBA Committees are continuing to work with PLI and Zoning to stream line this with the goal of having a single Zoning Permit.
Prefabricated Work: The AIA and AIA-MBA Committees are working with PLI to establish the approval process for Prefabricated work. PLI can inspect this work when it is within the City. For Prefabrication Inspections that occur outside of the City, PLI requests that Inspection be conducted by UCC Certified Inspectors. Contractors are encouraged to contact PLI to discuss this in advance.
Cross-department Coordination: A major workstream for the year ahead is seeking ways to streamline and coordinate how multiple City departments (i.e. DOMI/ Zoning / PLI) work together. To that end, the current timeline for departments moving into 412 Boulevard of the Allies to create a physical one-stop shop is end of the 2023/ early 2024.
We will continue to keep members informed of future developments.
David Wells, AIA is Co-Chair of the AIA-MBA Joint Committee and a Principal at RM Creative.