Sunday, October 25, 2020

Technology Helps to Ease Permitting Woes




Even before Hurricane Irma hit in September of 2017, the City of Marco Island’s Building Department had labored under increasing permitting demands and tracking permits within their system. “Although we are a small organization, you cannot appropriately respond to our customer’s needs without the ability to see where the logjams are within our system. Improving that process and moving us into the digital world has provided us with those necessary tools,” said Daniel Smith, the Director of Community Affairs for the City of Marco Island.

Smith has a wide range of responsibilities within the city and amongst them includes Growth Management, Building Services and Parks and Recreation. At times it becomes a balancing act, but Smith credits the successes to the great team that has been assembled in those departments.

Permitting, whether it involves the building of a new home, an addition of a room to an existing residence, a remodel of an older home, new windows or doors, the installation of a home generator or the replacement of a water heater, requires a review by a number of city departments. Before a permit package can be released to those individual departments, the package must be complete with all the “T’s” crossed and “I’s” dotted said Raul Perez, the city’s Chief Building Official.

Customer Service Supervisor Lisa Lee Loewer is the guardian of the gate regarding that permitting process, and was especially pleased when the city moved into the 21st century regarding the computerization of that process. Modernizing has helped to reduce the strain on her personnel and made for a much smoother process, while assisting with the onslaught of a 200 percent or more increase in the number of permits being issued after Irma hit.

The old system only provided a way to collect money and issue a physical permit. There was no ability to run it through the various departments for their review or to track its status within the system. The inability to share data between departments handicapped the agency’s ability to provide the contractors with a speedy review of their projects and the issuance of permit documents or scheduling of inspections.

These changes would also require contractors to become part of the digital age and step up their game. Together with the city, it would provide a more streamlined process, while improving productivity and eliminating a disjointed system of communications between city departments.

The new process was not thrust upon the community all at once. Instead it was gradually introduced into some selected builders to field test the process and review any adjustments that would be required, as in any other business when launching a new product or process.

That movement into the digital age couldn’t have come soon enough, as Irma would flood the small department with thousands of additional permit applications that would have overwhelmed the staff and those seeking a quick remedy for their issues. Having the system up and running so permits could be applied for over the internet was but another way to address the crisis the city found itself in.

Today, when a contractor submits a digital permit application that includes all of that project’s supporting paperwork, it can now be immediately sent simultaneously to all those departments that have a responsibility to review that project.

Under this new program, the response time on permits, depending upon a complete package being presented when the permit application is made, is being anticipated at two to three weeks, depending upon the complexity of the project. Simpler permits may be done in a shorter time period.

One of the other changes that have been instituted is the addition of owners being notified, along with agents and contractors regarding any delays receiving additional information that may be holding up a review of a permit and when that permit has been issued. All those notifications go out by email.

By mid-September the average time for processing an application through the system has fallen to seven to ten days. However, due to the complexity of a project, some applications may require additional time.

“Since April there has been a marked improvement in the turnaround time. The digital format has really helped to speed up the process,” said Jason Bailey of FCI homes, a local builder here on Marco.

In the fall of 2018, the city also instituted a Citizens Portal, which in effect allows property owners to check on the status of inspections and permits by utilizing their address to view the status of the work being done. You may go to the city’s website at www.cityofmarcoisland.com and search for Citizen Portal.

“We see a different aspect of the permitting process than what does a home builder. No doubt after Irma we saw some delays, but overall we think things regarding permits have been moving in the right direction. The addition of the check in kiosk is a big plus,” commented Eric Condee of Condee Cooling and Electric.

In a recent technical publication, the City of Marco Island was highlighted for their utilization of digital plans review in addition to customer-friendly Citizen Portals for reviews of permitting information and their use of digital permitting to ease the demand for prompter services. In addition to Marco, the City of Miami Beach and St. Lucie County were similarly recognized for their advances in digital technology.

Although there may be some minor glitches within the system, they are being worked out to the benefit of all concerned. The city has also been involved in holding educational seminars for contractors’ employees to allow them to better understand how to work more efficiently within the system.

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