In a comprehensive new report, the Nutter administration sharply criticized the city's permitting process as "confusing, unpredictable, time-consuming and costly," and dubbed it a "major barrier" to development in Philadelphia.

Nutter said Monday that his administration had made some improvements to the city's notoriously unwieldy permitting system over the last year. He promised further gains as a result of the $250,000 study, which was funded by a grant from the William Penn Foundation.

"For the first time ever this report clearly spells out the development process here in the city. Every rule the city issues, when they are applicable and who approves them," Nutter said.

According to the report, processing times in 2008 for city development permits - such as plumbing permits, and stormwater-management approvals - took from 156 to 571 days.

Developers say those kind of delays cost money and discourage building.

The report released Monday directs seven city departments and agencies to make a host of changes and calls for the creation of a comprehensive online permitting system that would give applicants the ability to digitally file permit requests, pay for them, and track their progress.

Some of the changes recommended in the report have already been made. Wait times on many of the 150,000 permits the city processes annually have been reduced over the past year, and a limited number of permits are available online.

"My experiences two and three years ago and what it is today are diametrically opposed," said Sam Sherman, past president of the Building Industry Association of Philadelphia, which has been critical of the city's permitting process.

"Philadelphia will be at a competitive advantage over the suburbs now, because of the permitting process," Sherman said.

The reforms that have been made, and the further changes called for in the report, should shorten delays for smaller developments and rehabilitations.

But large developments, particularly those that require zoning adjustments, will still face plenty of lengthy bureaucratic and procedural hurdles.

That too could change in the years to come, or at least that is Nutter's goal. A Zoning Code Commission is in the middle of rewriting Philadelphia's nearly half-century-old zoning code. In theory, a new code would permit most larger developments to be erected with less review, so long as they are built in areas with the proper zoning.