Become a Paperless Planning Powerhouse
Town of Kingsville, OntarioSeptember 14, 2023
A Look at the Town of Kingsville’s Online Planning Journey
The reliance of many local governments on paper has drastically decreased across Ontario in recent years.
The Town of Kingsville is one of many governments to move online for better community development. In 2021, Kingsville shifted its building permitting online. In March 2022, it followed suit by moving its planning & development online using the same software, Cloudpermit.
Now, the town is a paperless planning powerhouse.
PASS THE PAPER FILE
The southwestern town used to play a game that its manager of planning services, George Robinson, calls ‘pass the paper file’.
They shared physical copies of an application with stakeholders because they did not have a legacy database management system.
To manage a file, they began by creating a list of everyone involved in the review process. They started at the top of the list and handed the file to the next person once each part was complete.
They had to rush to their town hall when a neighbour or councillor needed a paper file ahead of schedule. From there, they had to check if whoever was currently reviewing the application was ready to finish their reviews or not.
Now, by keeping applications online, the planning department quickly learns where each stakeholder stands with their feedback.
Robinson gave an example to illustrate his point. "I can open an application and see that our manager of engineering is wrapping up their comments by Friday. So, I can tell our next stakeholders that we will have information for them to review by early next week. It’s so much easier to circulate applications online. We can ensure we aren’t wasting time tracking down a paper file."
TRACK WITH TACT
Tracking down a paper file can waste time and put too much pressure on one or two key people. It can also slow down the flow of information when someone is sick, on vacation, or busy with other work.
Keeping our information online ensures better transparency, efficient workflows, and stronger records. It also allows simple access to important information for those who need it, when they need it," Robinson says.
Robinson explains that poor record-keeping has greatly affected numerous Ontario municipalities that still rely on decades-old paper files. Sometimes, during the transition to a new system, they lose or struggle to find the records from before the switch.
On the flip side, online systems prevent data loss and simplify the process of finding information quickly. Data stored in the cloud is easily accessible and does not require any physical storage space at the office.
I see a very high value in having an effective records system and Cloudpermit was a natural fit for our records. We have all our building permit records, planning approvals, site plans, and inspections stored in one place. It’s much easier to access data online than digging out the right paper file to verify the information."
BEAT THE CLOCK
Planning departments can speed up timelines with online pre-consultation, a circulation timer, and easier draft approval issuance for site plans.
Cloudpermit’s pre-consultation feature is essential for modern planning across Ontario," Robinson says. "With just a few clicks, we can circulate plans with other towns and departments. We can provide them with the information they need to make insightful comments in the early stages. These are vital components for meeting provincial timelines."
Staff can easily communicate project expectations to stakeholders online. This helps participants clearly understand their tasks and deadlines. It also gives them tools to get their work done on time.
Robinson credits smooth preliminary reviews and review requests to the high-quality initial intake of information during the pre-consultation process. This leads to a faster turnaround time on site plans.
Cloudpermit’s circulation timer is also a time-saver. This functionality allows him to assign due dates to others.
The ability to understand where different responses are in the queue and receive feedback quickly is really useful. As the file manager, I can determine review times for each person and send reminders when their comments are almost due. It helps keep everyone accountable and on time."
Accountability is an important factor in Ontario’s Planning Act that, in part, aims to expedite project schedules.
Cloudpermit has been fantastic in helping us speed up our timeline for issuing draft approvals for site plans," Robinson shares. "Now, we can reach draft approval decisions in 30 days or less on almost every single file."
This is particularly beneficial as it aligns with the faster approval process mandated by Ontario's Planning Act. We can ensure we adhere to new, quicker standards with a cloud-based system."
POLISHED AND READY TO GO
Incomplete applications have been a common challenge for many local governments. However, online systems have transformed this reality into a thing of the past.
Applications are now submitted complete because applicants are required to fill out all mandatory fields before submission.
Since launching Cloudpermit, we haven’t had any incomplete applications for any application type. It has been great that committees and councils receive applications with no missing information," Robinson explains.
Being able to circulate plans in early stages to all different reviewers with preliminary comments is part of that success. Then, we can communicate with applicants about what is missing from their application. So, by the time we get to a council or committee, everything is polished and ready to go," he adds.
Kingsville has all its application types online which has substantially reduced paper volume and simplified the application process.
Right out of the box, Cloudpermit was a great solution for our planning and building permitting. Our community has become skilled at using the software, so it’s very smooth operations for our public. Our town has had a positive experience with lots of great feedback and success."
Applicants have enjoyed paying fees online instead of in person at the office.
Applicants have enjoyed paying fees online instead of in person at the office. "Generating invoices is fantastic on Cloudpermit. It’s a breeze to modify fees before publishing them for our applicants. They can effortlessly download clean and professional invoices so tracking payments has become a seamless process for us."
Not only is tracking payments easier online, but Robinson reveals that applicants find it easier to upload revisions online. Kingsville's staff can smoothly incorporate those revisions into their final council reports.
Before this software, we had to rely on file transfers and manually make sure nothing was missing. Now, we can see everything right away in one place for easier council reports."
Robinson strongly recommends considering Cloudpermit for simplified community development to those contemplating a move online.
Kingsville's planning and building teams are well-integrated. "If your building department already uses the software, it's a no-brainer to move your planning department online too. Staff are already familiar with the interface, so it’ll be easier to upload and share documents right off the bat. You can launch a few workflows to test the planning software and make sure it’s right for you. Collaboration and record-keeping become more efficient using the same cloud-based system," he continues. "It's also fantastic for retention."
Kingsville's culture has always been collaborative and now the software allows their team to make workflows even smoother between departments.
Cloudpermit has significantly enhanced communication across our departments that are responsible for reviewing various application types," Robinson shares.
Now, our finance team can easily access applications, provide comments, and collaborate. Cloudpermit's streamlined coordination allows our engineering team to download plans and perform reviews without dealing with file transfers or shared drives."
Robinson explains that the software’s user-friendliness has allowed Kingsville’s staff to quickly share information with ease. "Cloudpermit has greatly improved communication between our planning and building departments. We can do zoning clearances faster and more easily meet planning act and building permit timeline requirements."
He concludes, "It’s a great software that’s absolutely worth checking out."
This article was originally published in the OBOA Journal and can be viewed here.