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October 04,2016 - Skip the Trip: Charlotte County Implements Online Permitting
Florida City and County Managers Association

Babcock_MediaPages_R5.pdfCharlotte County, Florida is embracing the sustainable and technologically advanced community of Babcock Ranch, being developed by Kitson & Partners. To allow contractors to skip the 90-minute roundtrip to the county’s building department, we have created an online permitting system.

The spirit of Babcock Ranch is sustainability, innovation and technology. One of Florida’s largest solar fields will power a town that will eventually boast 19,500 residences and six million square feet of non-residential space, all anchored around a 9,000-acre preserve with greenways, blueways and even a driverless car system. Babcock Ranch promises to be the future home of families, professionals and the young at heart of all ages in Southwest Florida.

While Babcock Ranch was the impetus for the Charlotte County Community Development Department to pilot a new program that lets contractors skip the trip to the building department to permit their projects, the department also has developed an expedited permitting process, tailored to include all of the upfront work the Babcock team has done on platting, land development, zoning, environmental issues and their own architectural review committee. The streamlined system strips the permitting process down to one or two review stops.

“As a contractor, I can tell you time is money. Moving to online permitting and expediting the permitting turnaround saves contractors valuable hours and keeps projects on time and on budget,” said Charlotte County Commission Chairman Bill Truex. “It also sends a clear message to developers and contractors that Charlotte County is here to help you succeed.”

We also are encouraging builders to set up master plans. In return, we are committed to a two-day permitting turnaround. The department will be the keeper of the master plan and the builder will select which model they want to permit, where it will be and what options or features they want to use — all online. The department will do the rest. The plans will be electronically stamped and issued to the builder. The simple final step for the builder is to post a copy on the site for inspectors.

“Homes by Towne has worked with numerous counties both in Florida and nationwide and our first experience working with Charlotte County has been exceptional,” said Homes by Towne Vice President of Construction Tim Schellenger. “We were able to apply for the first building permit in Babcock Ranch; an historical event. As Babcock Ranch is basically a new town, Charlotte County officials clearly identified the process for submitting plans and applications and have been absolutely amazing to work with at every level.  What an exciting time for Charlotte County, Babcock Ranch and HBT.”Babcock_MediaPages_R5.pdf

To ensure inspection service levels are met, Charlotte County has strategically hired inspectors who live near the new development. All of our inspectors work out of their vehicles, remotely accessing our system via iPad and an app to log their inspections. Everything happens in real time. The contractor is notified the minute an inspection is completed.

“Charlotte County’s streamlined process is a win-win-win for builders, our future homeowners and the county,” said Babcock Ranch president Rick Severance. “They are leveraging technology to eliminate costly delays while maintaining the highest standards of accountability. In my career, I have yet to interact with a county as positive and accommodating as Charlotte County has been with respect to the building approval process. They have been proactive in their communication and training with each of our home builders, they have been forward thinking in terms of their use of technology and have been a true pleasure to work with.”

Communication is key to the success of this endeavor and all the contractors have been personally invited to the department for one-on-one online registration training and tutorial sessions to ensure they know how to upload their documents and complete their application. We also are seeking feedback from the contractors and the developer on potential improvements to the process. It’s a fantastic working relationship between all parties.

The aim of this collaborative team approach is to make this an exemplary project for all concerned. The energy Kitson & Partners and their homebuilders have brought to this project is infectious. The ideas, processes and practices being designed and honed for this project are a model for how we will approach our partnerships with developers, contractors and all our stakeholders and citizens. With model homes already going up and work on a town center underway, Babcock Ranch is off to a promising start. Charlotte County is proud of its key role in this innovative and forward-thinking project.

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