Electronic program speeds up county development review

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As recently as a year ago, a developer who wanted to complete a project in El Paso County had to hand-carry an application composed of dozens of documents to the county Planning and Community Development Department.

Now, using the department’s Electronic Development Application Review Program, developers, builders, commercial and industrial businesses, and other landowners can submit applications with the push of a button.

A web-based program that went online in March 2017, EDARP “has completely changed how we do business and made us more responsive to the development community and the public,” said Craig Dossey, executive director of the Planning and Community Development Department.

The system is fully in use for major developments. Within the next couple of weeks, it will be available to applicants for minor development projects such as driveway or deck permits, single-family homes and detached accessory structures.

“It’s only a matter of time until we’re completely paperless,” Dossey said.

The system is simple to use, said Kyle Campbell, consulting engineer with Classic Consulting Engineers and Surveyors.

“We get a list of things we need to submit,” Campbell said. “As we get one or two components in, we can upload them into the system, then the next day we can upload more. Information, reports and drawings can sit there until we’re ready to submit. It’s a very user-friendly way of getting things done.”

The system has created a lot of efficiencies and is saving developers money, said Jeff Mark, president of Landhuis Co., developer of Lorson Ranch, Star Ranch, The Sands and other projects.

“We no longer have to print out hundreds of pages of documents, or spend time driving down to the county to make a submittal,” Mark said. “We can pay online vs. hand-delivering a check for submittal.”

In addition, developers don’t have to make numerous copies to be sent out for external review by school and fire districts, military bases or state agencies.

Mark and other developers are saving an average of about $2,000 per development application by being able to file electronically, Dossey said. They’re also realizing savings in soft costs associated with staff time and mailing.

EDARP provides immediate access to all development projects in active review. It also allows online searches of all major development applications, rezonings and subdivisions dating back to 1947.

Those now-digitized files, some of which fill multiple boxes, are stored in a long room at the department.

“Appraisers, Realtors, attorneys, investors, developers and consultants tied to land use approvals had to come in and find hard copies by rifling through all this paper,” Dossey said. “They would tab each page, and they had to pay us to make copies.”

Now, anyone can search for a plat or specific parcel and bring up all documents that compose the application.

“The moment they’re submitted to the county for review and we accept them, they’re available for public review,” Dossey said.

The electronic system shaves as much as a week off the time needed to review applications and helps facilitate the review process.

The department coordinates with more than 180 outside review agencies, from military bases and municipalities to school and fire districts and state and federal agencies.

“They love having the system,” Dossey said. “All of them can be reviewing at the same time. A lot of times in the past we’d send agencies hard copies, and they would just sit on somebody’s desk until the deadline would lapse. Now we can send an update that comments are due. We’re getting comments up front that might have languished in hard-copy reviews and might have delayed projects.”

Since the department reviews 400 major development applications every year, the time saving for the department is substantial.

“We were able to repurpose two positions that were administrative staff who took in paperwork and handled it,” Dossey said. “We’ve added more staff at the front counter to provide better customer service to small business people who come in.”

The Planning and Community Development Department started scanning documents about 12 years ago and began exploring options for electronic submittals in January 2016.

“We partnered with the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department in February 2016,” Dossey said. “The RBD had their system just for building permit applications. Roger Lovell, the head guy over there, allowed us to use their programmer.”

The program, tailored specifically for El Paso County, was tested from late 2016 to early 2017. The first electronic development application was submitted for review in March 2017.

“The city of Colorado Springs has a similar database we’ve had access to for years,” Campbell said. “The county’s EDARP is much more comprehensive.”

Earlier this month, the El Paso County Board of Commissioners presented Dennis Archuleta and Mike Hrebenar with Innovation Awards for their roles in developing and implementing EDARP in collaboration with the Regional Building Department.

“It ends up being a vehicle about transparency,” Commissioner Stan VanderWerf said. “This material is in the public domain; citizens have a right to see it.”

The next phase of EDARP will extend the program to code enforcement and other inspection groups.

“Stormwater and inspection reports will be done electronically and will be GPS-based,” Dossey said. “A developer can see where a curb is broken and needs to be repaired. They can zoom in and see right where the problem is. Once we have those two things online, anybody can track a commercial development application or a code enforcement action.”

To view the Development Application Review home page, visit epcdevplanreview.com.