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Like many jurisdictions, Pinellas County, Fla. struggles under a land use regimen that can sometimes seem painfully slow. It’s a source of frustration to builders, and can be an impediment to economic development.

“Plan review is probably the longest portion of the approval process,” said David Howdeshell, a project sponsor in Pinellas County’s Building and Development Review Services. He’s heading up a reinvention of the process, implementing Accela land use products to make the wheels turn more smoothly.

Plan review can encompass a staggering range of participants, with as many as 18 separate agencies weighing in on the process, and no automated means to streamline the system.

“Right now, that is all a manual process through interoffice mail. It’s very cumbersome,” Howdeshell said. Some aspects of the process can take as much as two weeks, “and two weeks to a developer can easily be a quarter of a million dollars.”

Pinellas County has turned to Accela’s Civic Application for Building to help tame their unwieldy process. A software suite pre-built to the needs of government land management professionals, Accela Building enables civic officials to manage projects in the cloud, thus eliminating many time-consuming manual and paper permit functions, from initial application to issuance of the Certificate of Occupancy. As a SaaS solution, agencies don’t have to worry about setting up or managing expensive hardware and software infrastructures.

Developers can engage the permit process via a user-friendly website, saving them time and money, and helping the county to deliver faster turnaround times. This in turn helps developers schedule jobs more effectively, keeping development projects on schedule and on budget.

Cloud-based solutions reduce foot traffic and cut down on paper processes, making agencies not just more efficient but also more environmentally responsible. Fewer phone calls and leaner processes mean agencies can be more responsible with their handling of public funds.

As a pre-built solution, Accela’s Civic Application for Building provides many of the workflows, user interfaces, permit types, license requirements, data integrations, and reports needed to process building permits. By leveraging pre-built assets, the county has been able to put the system into production faster, and at a lower cost. “We look for this project to pay for itself through the expected efficiencies within about 5 years,” Howdeshell said.

Electronic document review has been a game-changer for the county. With agency officials and developers able to access digital documents, stakeholders are able to take advantage of new levels of collaboration.

“If we have the ability for everyone to simultaneously review documents, we compress it way down,” Howdeshell said. “We are looking for instance at a planning, zoning, site development response and approval process of about three months, and doing that within 18 days.”

Given the initial positive outcomes, Howdeshell is looking to Accela’s solution to deliver even greater gains in terms of process improvements, citizen satisfaction and budgetary outcomes. “The direction where I see Accela going is exactly where Accela needs to go,” he said.

Click here to learn more about Accela’s Civic Application for Building.

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