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Thread: Electronic submittals only? Paperless development review

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    Cyburbian UrbaneSprawler's avatar
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    Electronic submittals only? Paperless development review

    Wondering if any folks have gone to a fully paperless development application review? All documents and plans from reports to site plans to construction drawings are reviewed electronically only? I know we're supposed to get there someday. Until we get flatscreen monitors 2 feet by 3 feet that we can write on electronically, I hope we don't get there.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    Multiple cities in the Phoenix metro area do electronic plan review. My community was a late adopter. The plan review system allows them to add text box notes and each reviewer is assigned a different color. Phoenix not only does electronic plan reviews but will issues certain permits in one day.
    "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less" General Eric Shinseki

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Plus Salmissra's avatar
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    When I was in Houston, we did all plat review, including departmental comments, electronically. When it works, it's great. When the server is down, you are dead in the water. The plan was to move towards total paperless, but I don't know if they are there yet.

    Here we are still killing trees during submittals. Pain in the yingyang, for sure!
    "We do not need any other Tutankhamun's tomb with all its treasures. We need context. We need understanding. We need knowledge of historical events to tie them together. We don't know much. Of course we know a lot, but it is context that's missing, not treasures." - Werner Herzog, in Archaeology, March/April 2011

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    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    We have moved to an electronic system for reviewing projects which seems to work well untill we have to move to get state and federal approval. Granted what I do is slightly different than a pure plan review as I work in the realm of transportation. It does not mean my office is free of paper howerver my piles have shrunk.

    One downside is that people's expectations have been increased as the new system can take much less time to approve things. This leads to an awful lot of pi$$ed off people should I take off for a few days or even need to leave for a Dr's Appointment. This was done in order to free up my time to work on improving the system, but that too takes away from the time I use to approve projects causing me to spend a lot of time answering angry e-mails or phone calls from folks who don't understand why I just can't give them $1 million worth of changes in a few minutes all the time.

    I second the whole when the system goes down the whole thing comes to a stop. Since this is internet based, I can also be impacted by demands on bandwidth.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  5. #5
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by UrbaneSprawler View post
    Wondering if any folks have gone to a fully paperless development application review? All documents and plans from reports to site plans to construction drawings are reviewed electronically only? I know we're supposed to get there someday. Until we get flatscreen monitors 2 feet by 3 feet that we can write on electronically, I hope we don't get there.
    You need a SmartBoard or Interactive Plasma Display, or something similar. I was dying to get one of these to do electronic plan reviews for precisely the reason you cite: you need a large screen to get the same reviewing experience you get with a paper document. It'll set you back about $6,500. I was in a small town, so my plan was to create a "review room" with one of these monitors in there that would allow each reviewer to bring up the electronic development application, red line it to their heart's content, and then save it.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  6. #6
    Cyburbian UrbaneSprawler's avatar
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    Thanks for the input! I'd be curious to know some more of the details for those of you who've gone electronic.

    - What was the standard paper size you were normally reviewing that is now being submitted electronically?
    - Are people reviewing several sheets such as detailed drawings that may be upwards of 100 sheets at 24" x 36"?
    - Is the electronic format in PDF or some other format?
    - Is the electronic format "rasterized" such that text can't be selected (which from what I've seen loads faster than when people convert CAD to PDF and layers takes several seconds to display).

    I'm a techie by nature but call me a skeptic. I don't think with the hardware I currently have (2 widescreen monitors each about a foot by a foot and a half) that I could do my job solely electronically looking at screens, without major eyestrain and missing out on details. Maybe the SmartBoard could help for plan review. Still I think there will always be a need to kill trees. We have over 200 applicants for a position here in the office and the applications, resumes and cover letters were all printed. SO much easier on the eyes than looking at PDFs all day long.

  7. #7
    We have a system called E-Submittal for all of our land development cases (Admin Reviews, Rezoning, Conditional Uses, etc)

    It was written in-house, in a code that only one guy in IT (who has since left) was proficient in, so it's kind of held together with twine and prayers right now.

    We are working on a comprehensive Land System Management software which will also include permitting and other functions as well.



    The current system automatically assigns a case number to new submissions, allows us to fill out a schedule for each case (Staff report due date, Project Review Group, Plan Commission Date, City Council Dates, Board of Adjustment) and assign users (staffers from various departments) to review the case and input comments by a due date... it also automatically generates staff reports (which we need to tweak a bit, but still does a good job)


    One thing that struck me a week ago, I doubt we've saved a sheet of a paper with it, probably used more in fact. Before you'd have printed copies, that the applicant printed at their own cost, and submitted to you, which were carried around from office to office like sacred parchments.

    NOW, we run off several copies, usually on 11x17, for our own review and for staff meetings, all of which get promptly put into the recycling bin when we are done and new copies are priinted for the next meeting... all of this on the cities dime.

    That said, reviewing departments are spread across several offices at 2-4 sites (depending on the case)... and the ability to simultaneously review, or review at your convenience without waiting to get a copy, is invaluable to us, I can't imagine how much of a mess all of this was before we started this system, and the development community loves it... even if it does get buggy from time to time.



    - What was the standard paper size you were normally reviewing that is now being submitted electronically?
    - Are people reviewing several sheets such as detailed drawings that may be upwards of 100 sheets at 24" x 36"?
    don't know if we have a standard size... often the PDF's we get are 24x36 in their original format, but we don't have a printer that big in our office so we usually run off copies at 11x17.

    Planning and Code Enforcement are seperate functions where I work, so planners are more of project managers that usher cases through the process... what procedures code enforcement has when they review projects is a bit different, not sure exactly what their system is. They fill out comment fields in our submittable system if revisions or conditions are added to an application.


    - Is the electronic format in PDF or some other format?
    drawings are almost always PDF... supplemental material will sometimes be submitted as .doc or .docx

    - Is the electronic format "rasterized" such that text can't be selected (which from what I've seen loads faster than when people convert CAD to PDF and layers takes several seconds to display).
    depends on who is submitting, if they can't read the details we'll ask them to resubmit, but the vast majority of plans we get are in vector format, so the paper size the document is set to is pretty irrelevant.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    These systems seem to offer benefits to the planners and developer but how has the public reacted to them? I picture a confused 80 year old couple trying to review the plans for their neighbor's property.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally posted by Seabishop View post
    These systems seem to offer benefits to the planners and developer but how has the public reacted to them? I picture a confused 80 year old couple trying to review the plans for their neighbor's property.
    honestly? I don't think we've had any run-ins with it. At public meetings the staff reports to commissioners or council members includes some documents, but they don't spend too much time reviewing them anyways.

    If there is a site plan we usually throw that up on the PowerPoint for the meetings (which is useful because we already have the ability to get the images)

    I haven't seen a case where people are demanding to review the specific drawings. If they wanted those we can print them off a copy, or review it in front of a computer with them... although at a certain point they get billed for eating up staff time, and we would charge them for making copies for them.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by FightingIllini07 View post
    I haven't seen a case where people are demanding to review the specific drawings.
    Interesting. In my experience (in four different municipal planning departments), an abutter/neighbor requesting to see the plans is a very common occurrence.

    Quote Originally posted by FightingIllini07 View post
    If they wanted those we can print them off a copy, or review it in front of a computer with them... although at a certain point they get billed for eating up staff time, and we would charge them for making copies for them.
    Print them a copy off a plotter or a reduction of a 24"x36" sheet? Do you have a common/public computer area? How do you go about billing citizens for staff time?

  11. #11
    Cyburbian jswanek's avatar
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    .

    Very hard to read full sized plan sheets on any computer, and plotter color printing costs too much in the long run. In an age when architects and engineers can't spell, and there are data entry errors on every cad drawing, that's still important.

    .

  12. #12
    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    We have been doing electronic plan review and love it. Its a pdf-based system, so we can zoom in/out and mark it up, add text, etc. We also require 4 hard copies (1 for each work group reviewing the plans) to be used during meetings and to show any citizens that ask. Overall it works well for us, even after some initial resistance from other departments.
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

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    Right Now Submittals - Electronic Division 22 23 submittals

    Hello all,
    I believe the change to electronic submittals is easier then you all think. My company proves that. We are currently based in the great NW and have been applauded by several high profile engineering firms as their choice for electronic submittals. Our format and ease of use makes paper submittals look ridiculous. Our "Submit Green" process is able to create an entire division 22/23 submittal package without printing a single sheet of paper. Transmittals are as sent by email, review is done without a job book...

    Let me know if you'd like to learn more. Thank you for a minute of your time

  14. #14
    Cyburbian rcgplanner's avatar
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    I am glad this thread was started because my fair city is looking at possibly requiring electronic plan submittal, at least for larger projects at first. We are looking at the whole gament from pdf files submitted on a disk or a usb stick, to full blown plan review software. We already have an electronic system that our permit techs use to check in a permit and each department enters their comments in, but we are still reviewing hard copies. The main reason for looking at electronic plan submittial this is due to some city departments who arent at City Hall complaining about having to come to City Hall to review plans.

    Would anyone who mentioned that their community does/did use electronic plan submittial care to message me with actual city names. I am trying to do some research on how the systems work once implimented. Thanks!

  15. #15
    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller View post
    Interesting. In my experience (in four different municipal planning departments), an abutter/neighbor requesting to see the plans is a very common occurrence.
    first ones I've dealt with came in last week, we printed off copies of a site plan on 11x17 and they were happily sent on their way.


    Print them a copy off a plotter or a reduction of a 24"x36" sheet? Do you have a common/public computer area? How do you go about billing citizens for staff time?

    We do have a computer set up in teh waiting area where we can show people documents, and we can send things by email too.

    I believe our policy is 30 minutes free, $25/hr after that, if its projected to be more than $100 we ask for it up front.... we aren't super strict about it, it's mostly for large requests or for dealing with people who repeatedly eat up staff time. Printing is like 50-75 cents a page, but typically we will print off a page or two and send people on tehir way without worrying about it.

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