By Gary Nelson for The Arizona Republic
The folks at LongHorn Steakhouse were mighty pleased with how Mesa handled the permits for their new restaurant in Mesa’s Fiesta District.
LongHorn, a branch of the Florida-based Darden Restaurants Inc., picked the southeastern corner of Fiesta Mall for its first Arizona restaurant because of the area’s economic potential.
The chain had to nail down its construction permits. Things went smoothly, said John Keen, who is LongHorn’s site development manager.
“Mesa had an open-door policy and was very willing to work with us,” Keen said. “City Hall was willing to have dialogues very early on in our building process, gave ongoing feedback and was very open to being our partner.”
Development and Sustainability Director Christine Zielonka said the city has known about (Phoenix’ idea for self-certification) for several years but hasn’t seen a need for it yet.
Mesa meets the needs of the development community by speeding up permits in whatever other ways are feasible, Zielonka said. As examples, she cited quick approval within the past two years for two large projects — the Crescent Crown beverage distributorship on West Broadway Road and the 1.3-million-square-foot First Solar Inc. factory in southeast Mesa.
“Folks for the most part, I think, have been pretty happy with the level of interaction with staff and our willingness to work with the development program on their schedule,” Zielonka said.
Developers, in fact, often rely on city expertise to fine-tune plans with a view to the latest building and safety codes. The last thing Mesa wants, she said, is for a self-certified project to be shut down in the middle of construction because of serious safety concerns.
Mayor Scott Smith, a former homebuilder, said self-certification has been a buzz topic in the construction industry for at least a decade. Although he can see advantages, he also sees potential drawbacks.
“The reality is that some engineers and some architects do not stay completely up to date with building and fire codes,” Smith said.
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AZBEX Note: Phoenix’ self-certification program and Chandler’s similar process were covered in AZBEX on September 21