Skype used to speed up Frederick Co. building permit process

At left, Barbara Brian, senior permits specialist with the Frederick County Department of Permits and Inspections, demonstrates how her department uses Skype while she communicates with Terry May, utility support tech with the county\'s Division of Utilities and Solid Waste Management. (Frederick News-Post/Adam Fried)

For developers like Bill Raymond, getting a permit just got a whole lot easier.

Getting a permit in Frederick County for a nonresidential project with plumbing used to take a few days or weeks.

With the use of new technology at the county Department of Permits and Inspections, it can now usually be reviewed and approved in the same day.

“It’s always been the one issue of not being able to get a permit — if you had plumbing attached to it — without going through the full review process,” Raymond, vice president at Summit Construction, said this week. “(The change) is something that is very business-friendly and construction-friendly.”

Raymond, who has been applying for permits in the county for about 12 years, was the first person to use the new technology. Representing a pet products distribution center coming to the county, Raymond came in for a permit last week. The company was seeking a building permit to begin renovations on a structure.

The potential issue — before the new technology was in place — would have involved the installation of a sink.

“The problem before was if you had a project that had a tremendous amount of plumbing work — or, in my case, one sink — you kind of got lumped together,” Raymond said. “Now, they can look at it and run it through the system. … With the technology available, it makes perfect sense.”

The new system uses computer scanning equipment and Skype to provide videoconferencing between two agencies.

When water and sewer is involved, the county department of permits and inspections must consult with someone from the Division of Utilities and Solid Waste Management.

The total cost for the upgrades was a little more than $3,000, said Kevin Demosky, director of the county Division of Utilities and Solid Waste Management. Two computers, four monitors and two high-definition video cameras were purchased.

“We thought it was a good idea to incorporate technology and leverage that to our benefit,” Demosky said. “You cannot always communicate this kind of information easily without seeing it.”

The two offices are just 15 minutes apart, but that distance used to delay the process.

Detailed plans and other documents can now be scanned at one location and a videoconference held immediately.

The system was upgraded to address the county commissioners’ goal of making the government more business friendly, according to Sharon Goetz, the county’s manager for permitting services.

Rather than go to North Market Street to apply, and then head to Metropolitan Court to drop off plumbing plans, the application can be done all at once.

“It was the inconvenience factor,” Goetz said of the decision to make the change.

Depending on the job, it used to take an additional one to two weeks, Goetz said.

For now, the new process is available for only three hours a day, three days a week. Permit applications can be submitted during all normal business hours, but the videoconferencing for walk-through permits involving plumbing will be done only from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

“Our applicants have wanted this for some time,” Goetz said. “It’s great to be able to finally offer it to them.”

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