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Cities Begin to Accept Online Building Permits


May 02, 2020 by Liz Brumer

In response to the coronavirus shutdown, certain counties and cities began accepting online building permits on a temporary basis. Large metro areas such as King County, Washington (the county seat for Seattle); Columbus; San Diego; Boston; and Miami, for example, had momentarily adopted a virtual service model for issuing permits and conducting inspections to help existing construction projects continue regardless of large-scale closures.

But as the shutdown continues, some county seats are seeing the value in adopting a digital system on a permanent basis. For example, starting May 4, 2020, the city of San Diego is making the switch to an entirely cloud-based permitting system in addition to extending the available types of permits.

Originally, most counties made their online permit and inspection process available for basic permitting projects that did not require plan review, such as nonstructural remodels including bathroom or kitchen, right of way, mechanical, insulation or air sealing, roofing, siding, windows, fences, sheds, electrical, plumbing, or gas. But the City of San Diego will broaden the types of permits being reviewed and issued to include larger projects, such as:

  • New building and construction changes.
  • Fire.
  • Grading.
  • Mapping.
  • Noise.
  • Residential and commercial solar photovoltaic permits.
  • Traffic control.
  • Transportation.

While San Diego is the first to embrace a fully digital platform to this extent, it's likely other large counties and cities will follow suit. The switch to a fully online permitting system will take time, and there are sure to be kinks to work out as the platform is used in the first few months. But this move will allow developers and contractors to streamline the permitting request and approval process and continue with new projects at a faster rate while eliminating the need to visit the county or city development and permitting office. The system will allow submitters to monitor the project approval process online and communicate with city or county employees virtually.

Real estate investors, developers, contractors, and government officials are still unsure how this shift to a virtual model will impact the overall permitting and inspection process in the long run, but many feel this is a move in the right direction, allowing business and development to continue and grow even if an event similar to the current crisis occurs again.

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