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Accela Launches Planning and Building Apps, Hoping to Streamline Development

The company said transparency — among other functionalities — can help reduce the amount of time it takes for a city to approve development.

Accela is launching a pair of applications to help cities speed up the process of approving housing and commercial development.

The two new products — Accela Civic Application for Planning and Accela Civic Application for Building — are the newest additions to the company’s Civic Applications suite. That suite has featured local government solutions for some very topical issues like short-term rentals and the regulation of legalized marijuana.

The planning and building apps are, in the words of Accela interim CEO Mark Jung, “soup to nuts” — that is, they’re capable of handling a city’s needs from the beginning of a developer submitting a planning or building application to the end.

According to Jung, the company has seen customers achieve big time savings with the applications. The cloud-based solutions can be quickly deployed within local governments, he said, and once they’re up and running they can lead to much faster approvals for developers.

“We’ve seen 50, 80 percent-plus savings in time, processes that would take one or two months getting down to two or three weeks,” Jung said.

A big part of the reason the apps can reduce the length of the process, Jung said, is the transparency they create. They lay out the steps in the review and approval process, and give everyone involved — including the applicant — a clear view into what has happened and what still needs to happen.

“You have prioritization, you have analytics, you have the queue, what the next things are,” Jung said.

Dr. Peter Pirnejad, assistant city manager for the city of Napa, Calif., said those are important pieces for local government workers to have. During his five-plus years working at the city of Palo Alto, Calif., Pirnejad worked extensively with Accela and helped build applications on the platform, including for planning and building work.

“The most important piece [was] transparency, so identifying where in the process you had an issue and focusing your efforts there,” Pirnejad said.

Having the process clearly laid out also allows the city to figure out which steps are acting as bottlenecks and holding up other parts of the process. It also speeds up the notification process; if the system automatically notifies the developer when a step of the process is completed, that eliminates the time it takes for city staff to write emails, make phone calls and meet with people.

It also helps to have technology for developers to find where they can build certain types of buildings.

“Let’s say you want to build housing,” he said. “Technology can help you easily find out where it can be built, where it’s pre-approved, and where the entitlements exist.”

The promise of priority checks in the Accela apps could be very helpful too, Pirnejad said. When he was in Palo Alto, one of the things he did was help city employees figure out which work was most urgent.

“[We gave] them a list of applications they had, and being able to prioritize them based on due dates made a world of difference,” he said. “And then we were able to put the projects that were closest to deadline at the top of the list so that we weren’t doing the projects where they were due in a week or two, and rather focus on the ones that have a due date of tomorrow.”

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.