eServices speed neighbourhood approvals

The adoption of ePlan, an all-electronic system for processing neighbourhood development plan approvals, has brought relief to engineering firms and City employees – but no joy to courier services and copy shops.

“The ePlan system has shaved at least six weeks off what used to be a six-month approval process that involved about 120 people in a variety of City of Edmonton departments and branches,” says Sustainable Development’s former director of development coordination, Nancy Domijan, who has since accepted a new position as the director of building permits and inspection services.

“And because developers’ engineering consultants don’t have to use couriers and print multiple copies of plans anymore, in just the first year with the new system we’ve saved the private sector well over $500,000 in courier and copying costs, and we’ve relieved City employees of many hundreds of hours of often tedious work.”

To grasp the magnitude and complexity of neighbourhood subdivision plan approvals, it’s important to know a few things about the process.

First, developers must pay for roads, sidewalks, street lighting, power, sewer and water utilities, and landscaping in new neighbourhoods. After approvals have been given, the infrastructure’s built and warranty periods are done, the City takes all of it over and is responsible for maintaining it.

That’s why the City must be absolutely sure that all of the rules and regulations pertaining to infrastructure construction are followed to the letter.

Before the electronic system was implemented about a year ago, says Nancy, the developer’s engineering consultants would have to prepare 14 sets of plans and courier them to the Sustainable Development department.

“Each of those 14 plan sets contained between 50 and 100 individual plans, so just the first stage of each application involved more than 1,000 sheets of two-foot by three-foot paper,” says Nancy.

“We’d divide up the sets and internally mail them off to various City departments and branches so their engineers could pore over the detail and note problems by writing on the plans and appending memos.”

All those plan sets were then sent back to the consultants for revision. When revisions were made, 14 brand new ‘second iteration’ plan sets were couriered back to Nancy’s staff, who then split the sets up and sent them for detailed examination in several internal departments and branches.

At that stage – and in the third-iteration stage if one was required – City staff would have to painstakingly compare the previous plans with the corrected plans, correction by correction, to ensure all of their directions had been followed.

Under the new system, consultants submit their plans electronically. Nancy’s group automatically re-distributes them amongst City departments for scrutiny and comment.

During the scrutiny process, every player – the developer, the engineering consultants and every relevant City department – can see the comments of each of the City‘s approving authorities.

“The new system clearly highlights any changes made to plans after the previous submission, so City staff have much better tools to check one set against another to confirm revisions were made,” says Nancy.

“That’s another of the main reasons it’s such a huge timesaver,” she says.

Nancy says the system has even had an unexpected positive effect.

“In planning our move to the new Civic Building, we realized we don’t need as much room now, because we’re no longer spreading all those plans out on large tables.”

The next phase of ePlan – enabling electronic submission of Construction Completion Certificates (CCCs) and Final Acceptance Certificates (FACs), the applications for certificates issued by the City once infrastructure construction is complete and final inspections are done  – is targeted to launch in March 2016.
Once the next phase has been completed, the entire end-to-end engineering drawing process will have been put online, a huge milestone.

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