Doing development and construction business in the suburbs becomes easier with the launch of not one but two departmental land management portals, the first aspects of which were put online the same day.
In mid-February, Henrico County launched the first phase of its “Build Henrico” platform, which residents and developers will ultimately be able to use for tasks such as submitting development plans, requesting building permits, paying fees, and making and tracking zoning complaints.
On the same day, across the river, Chesterfield County rolled out its own multi-year effort, also known as the Enterprise Land Management System (ELM), which consolidates zoning, reviewing plans , utility connections, code enforcement, permits and inspections on a single platform.
That the two separate efforts launched simultaneously was, in the opinion of all, a total coincidence.
“It was completely a fluke,” said Jesse Smith, Chesterfield County Assistant Administrator for Community Development. “We knew they were migrating to more automation, but we didn’t know we were launching on the same day. “
“I think ours came out 30 minutes before Henry’s,” said Andy Gillies, Chesterfield’s planning director. Laughing, he added: “We were the first. “
Lisa Orlosky, an IT manager at Henririco who led that county’s efforts along with department colleague Jenn Montrose, said they were only aware of the timing after their launch, also attributing the script to chance.
“Our launch dates have been set months in advance,” Orlosky said. “I think it’s an interesting coincidence. But that’s all it is – a coincidence.
Scheduled to be phased in until next year, Build Henrico replaces the county’s old land management system, which Orlosky said dated back to 2001.
The new website includes how-to instructions to help users with different tasks, and video tutorials are expected to be added over time. Users can create an account, which Orlosky says is optional, and relevant county staff were trained on the system before the initial phase went live on February 16.
The first phase focuses on the application of the zoning code and annual inspections. Businesses and residents can report zoning violations and neighborhood issues such as potholes or overgrown vegetation. The platform allows them to track the status of their complaints and pinpoint locations using a map feature.
A second phase, scheduled to launch in the spring, will allow builders to apply for various permits online, estimate fees, request inspections and obtain certificates of occupancy. A final phase will facilitate the submission of development plans and its deployment is scheduled for 2022.
“Right now, a lot of these processes are handled through electronic forms on our website or paper-based processes,” Orlosky said. “This new system will allow people to do all of these things entirely online. “
The county contracted with Computronix, a Colorado-based software development company, to develop and implement Build Henrico. County supervisors awarded the company a $ 4.3 million contract in July, although Orlosky said the planning effort has been underway since early 2019.
Orlosky said Computronix was selected from other potential vendors for its technology and systems management, which it supplies to more than 400 corporate customers, according to its website.
“We spent a lot of time researching what our options were for replacing our existing system and doing a lot of business and process analysis before choosing a supplier,” she said. “We were very careful about what we chose as the solution for Henrico. “
For his platform, which Smith says has been in development for four years, Chesterfield worked with Accela, a California government software company that Henryo had used for his previous land management system. He also worked with TruePoint, a Massachusetts-based consulting firm, which Smith said handled the integration of the project.
Chesterfield budgeted $ 3.76 million for this effort, which ultimately cost around $ 3.22 million. The remaining funds will be spent on additional deployment phases that will enhance the platform, said Dean Jadlowski, division head of the county’s office of information systems technology and project management.
The new platform replaces six old systems that Smith said operated separately, with departments having to consult with others to retrieve certain information. The ELM platform not only brings these systems together, he said, but will also help customers doing business with the county.
“We had a lot of old legacy systems, a lot of things that were mainframe-based, data-driven. This brings them all together into a cohesive web-based platform, so updates are released automatically, ”Smith said.
“Obviously, we have a lot of people asking for permits, applications, inspections. It’s to try to help them do business more easily and in the way they want, ”he said. “On the back-end side and from a staff perspective, he’s trying to bring six different departments together in their systems and make sure we’re talking together, so they can get their jobs done on time. “
Gillies added, “It was a great way for us to shake off the siloism of every department. We can all have the same information and work together. It will really be a great advantage for each department to be able to work in a consolidated system.
While the platforms are conducive to contactless business amid a pandemic, both groups stressed their efforts were underway long before COVID-19 arrived, although the virus prompted Chesterfield to roll out some features of his system last year. .
Chesterfield portal users must create an account to submit permit applications or schedule an inspection, while case searches can be performed without an account. The site includes user guides explaining the ELM system, as well as a list of frequently asked questions. The system also uses a mobile application and an automated telephone system.
Both counties will continue to accept paper submissions as needed, but officials said the goal is for users to learn and gravitate to online platforms.
“We’re still going to welcome those who can’t afford to submit an electronic plan,” Orlosky said, “but we hope to get people used to electronic submissions. It’s a lot easier once you get the hang of it. .
The platforms complement other online development tools in the region. In recent years, the city of Richmond has rolled out its online licensing portal, which Georgia-based EnerGov Solutions developed under a $ 1.63 million contract the city awarded in 2012.