City planning office closed May 3, effort to revamp development review process continuing

On May 3, the Planning and Community Development office will be closed for business for a mandatory staff training.

The office will resume regular office hours on May 6.

For the last two years, a city-wide effort has been underway to improve and streamline the development review process.

City moving forward with plan to suspend design review board; looking at changes to development codes

Staff has been working to modify procedures and develop new, more efficient processes for development in Great Falls.

As part of that effort, the city is holding mandatory in-house training on May 3 for staff to be training on the new procedures and documents related to development review, permitting and inspections.

On Friday, the planning office will not be open to the public, or taking calls to schedule inspections and issue permits.

Code enforcement, historic preservation, Community Development Block Grant and custodial services will still be available.

City reducing building permit fees, adding option for digital plan submittal

Craig Raymond, planning director, said that the city has new applications and checklists that are “far more descriptive and hopefully helpful…explaining what is required up front so it’s more of a predictable process.”

Raymond said it will take time to get all the pertinent staff trained on the new forms and processes.

Staff is scheduled to brief the City Commission on the changes at their May 21 work session.

The changes will begin implementation next week and Raymond said the development community will probably start to notice, but there will be bumps in the road as everyone adapts to the new processes.

“We’re asking people to learn a lot,” he said. “A lot of it is internal changes, but it will make it more predictable for developers going into it. We’re not here to make our lives easier, we should be here to make others lives easier. Not every project is created equal and we need to be adaptable and make things as simple as they can be for people.”

The effort to revamp the development review process isn’t complete yet though and significant changes are underway.

Process underway to update city land development code

Last year, the city temporarily suspended the Design Review Board and in February, the City Commission approved a $641,356 contract for three years for Energov software from Tyler Technologies.

Staff is in the early stages of data entry with the new software and Raymond said it will take 9-12 months for full implementation.

Energov is replacing the New World Logos system the city has been using since 2012.

After determining a need for better functionality and online options for developers, the city issued an request for proposals in 2018 for new software and spent months evaluating the options.

According to city staff, Energov enhances citizen access to information, provides the capability to apply for permits, pay for permits, request inspections online and securely access project status updates online, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Citizens will be able to apply for trades licenses such as plumbing or electrician licenses and Safety Inspection Certificates online with the ability to securely access their information online.

The new software allows staff to convert to a paperless environment through electronic permit submittal and plan review processes.

Raymond said there’s a lot of change happening at once, but the new process will be better for the community.

There’s some things the city can’t control based on state law and requirements from state and federal agencies such as the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Montana Department of Transportation, health agencies and more.

To ease communication issues, staff did shift to a project review process earlier that appoints a planner as a single point of contact to coordinate all the necessary actions from various city departments.

If there is an emergency on May 3, contact the city manager’s office at 455-8450.