Electronic building permits a good move

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The Grant County Planning Department is working to pick up the pace by processing some building permits electronically.

The change won’t happen overnight, as the county is in the process of training workers and finding a contractor.

When the changeover does happen, single-family residential permits will be submitted to the county with a system called Revu, a PDF markup tool made for architects, appraisers, engineers, contractors and building owners.

Damien Hooper, the county’s development services director, explains that his staff works on a three-week window to process permits for single-family homes. The window is shorter in the summer and longer in the winter.

Commercial construction permits for grocery stores and other retail businesses undergo about an eight-week plan review. If a larger project came through the door, there would be land use permitting or environmental review requiring about three to four months just for those aspects.

The permit process for homes and businesses is complex. The county’s Planning/Building Department, Health District, Fire District and Public Works all weigh in. Items like septic design, environmental health, driveway conditions and a life safety review of the structure are examined.

When electronic permitting does happen, there is efficiency on the builder’s side because of the time and cost involved with not printing plans. In turn, photocopies will be reduced at different offices.

Plan review can take place electronically and plans will be delivered back to the builder electronically, eliminating drive time to the county courthouse in Ephrata.

Hooper cited “a number of cost savings folks don’t realize, not having to bring in print plans and print documents.”

The system will also allow the Planning Department to accept credit card payments online. Earlier this year, the Planning Department was set up to take credit cards at the counter, yet another improvement.

Hooper said he received positive feedback from people who read a recent Herald article about the move to electronic permitting.

He expects to start data testing with a builder or a few builders soon.

Once the employee training period is over, he anticipates the permit timeline will decrease.

Revu, the PDF system the county will use, boasts improved efficiency because those involved are able to work more effectively together.

This is important because Grant County is experiencing growth in residential construction. The evidence is shown with the number of building permits issued in August, a total of 114, the most in 14 years, according to a recent Herald article. Through August, the county has issued 633 permits with a year to date average of 79. During all 12 months of last year, a total of 766 building permits were processed.

Through August, 75 permits were issued for manufactured homes, 113 for dwellings and 64 for agricultural structures.

While electronic permitting won’t be the answer to all project issues because of the many layers involved, the move is a step in the right direction. Key factors are offering proper training and support for the employees processing the permits.

When that happens, efficiencies will likely result because greater efficiency and communication go hand-in-hand. We’re excited to see the results of this endeavor. When Grant County becomes a more builder-friendly environment, more opportunities result for people and businesses.

— Editorial Board

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