VelocityHall speeds up permits

Old habits are proving hard to break in Alameda, Calif.

Carpenters, plumbers and electricians are so used to driving to local

planning agencies to pull permits that it's taking time for them to realize

there's an alternative.

"Convincing them not to visit us is tougher than I thought it would

be," said Greg McFann, chief code enforcement official for Alameda.

McFann was referring to the county's recent implementation of VelocityHall — an automated Web application by Accela.com Inc. that eliminates the need

for contractors to go to the local city hall or make phone calls to apply

for permits, check the status of applications or schedule inspections.

Accela.com has already signed up 80 customers for its new Web-enabled

products. Most of them are users of the company's back-end permitting systems.

Contractors can log on through Accela.com's front-end server and tie

directly into an agency's databases. Without any human interaction, they

can search for building, planning or fire data needed for a permit application.

The integrated system, which is customized for each city, automatically

calculates fees and electronically issues permits. Smaller governments can

opt to have Accela.com host the solution.

Some agencies cover Accela's cost — $5 plus 10 percent of the permit

amount. In other cases, the contractor is responsible for the cost, said

Maury Blackman, vice president of corporate development.

For now, the e-permitting system is limited to processing simple permits

that do not require technical review. However, as the San Francisco-based

company improves its ability to process blueprints, permits for larger projects

will be possible.

McFann said the service will eventually free staff to work with homeowners

and contractors. Meanwhile, officials are spreading the word about the new

service by mailing fliers to every contractor in their databases.

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