In High Point, N.C., a longtime hub of the U.S. furniture-making industry, city officials needed a better way to engage with developers, service citizens and ultimately guide the community development process. They needed digital tools in place of outmoded manual processes.
The city needed a solution that would dramatically reduce permit time, in part by taking the plan review process online and also by facilitating improved communications between developers and city officials.
“We started looking for vendors that we thought would be stable and be here with us for the long run,” said Mark Schreoder, a senior planner in the city’s Development Services Center Administration. After a thorough vetting process, the city selected Accela’s community development software as the best means to streamline the planning review process.
That move generated rapid and measurable returns. “Within the first six months, 90 percent of our requests are online and planned reviews have gone from three weeks to about four core days,” Schreoder said.
He credits much of the improvement to Accela’s electronic plan review process. Accela’s Civic Application for Planning, for example, offers municipal users the ability to fast-track development through automation, moving key processes into a digital environment. An online portal makes it simple to submit proposals, check for status updates and pay outstanding fees.
Enhanced communications are a key element here. The Accela solution enables planners to easily manage high volumes of information and route documents for review and approval: When the right people see documents at the right time, developers and project owners experience improved turnaround times and can enjoy clearer expectations.
By going digital, the city has been able to improve case management across the development experience. Planners now can access project documentation including key items such as site plans, proposals, applications and requests, all with a simple click.
The SaaS solution likewise enables the city to break down inter-departmental siloes, which often can be an impediment to timely project reviews. Planners can now share plan information and code data with building department personnel, thus enabling them to keep the permitting process moving forward.
High Point planners also can leverage new automation tools to remove some cumbersome human processes from the equation. Accela automates inspection and enforcement of planning codes, for example, to ensure development adheres to growth plans as communities develop and change.
As a result of these capabilities, the city has done more than just improve its bottom-line metrics around the plan review process. It also has built up a new level of trust, demonstrating good faith and an ability to execute effectively throughout the planning process. This in turn could help to drive economic development well into the future.
“That’s been a real game changer for us as far as getting people back into this mode of: ‘Hey, High Point knows what they’re doing. They can turn permits around quickly, the communications are better,’” Schreoder said. “They know what to expect, and then we meet that expectation.”