A ‘night and day switch’: City’s new, fully online planning and licensing application process aims for convenience and clarity

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

The home of the City of Lawrence's Planning & Development Services department at City Hall Riverfront, 1 Riverfront Plaza, is pictured on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024.

Starting on Monday, people looking to secure a business license or building permit in Lawrence will have access to a much more streamlined new application system.

The City of Lawrence’s new permitting and licensing system goes live Feb. 5, and it will replace the city’s current licensing and permitting processes with a more centralized platform that’s available online, 24 hours a day.

It’s a new system that’s been at least two years in the making, said Jeff Crick, the city’s Planning & Development Services director.

“It’s really going to be a big step forward for both us as employees and the city here but also the people who work with us, the customers and the homeowners that are looking to do that,” Crick told the Journal-World earlier this week.

The online portal standardizes the start of the application process for everyone, from planning submissions to business licensing. Previously, Crick said some types of applications may have been handled only on paper or in other formats, but the new system brings them all online.

There, applicants will be able to see all of their applications and license history in one place, rather than in multiple locations, and members of the public will have the ability to view those applications as they work through the process.

Crick gave one example to better illustrate how the new one-stop-shop system changes things compared to the old system. If someone were applying for a rental license, planning application and right-of-way permit for a project, for example, Planning & Development Services staff would handle the rental license and planning application. But the right-of-way request would fall to an entirely different department — Municipal Services & Operations — with potentially an entirely different process.

Every application will still be a little bit different, Crick said, so it’s perhaps better to think of the new system as one that centralizes things for both parties in a planning and licensing application process.

“… It does take a little bit of getting used to, like any program does, but it’s intuitive,” Crick said. “As you start to use it and see the way that it prompts for things and asks for things, it tries to kind of make that a little easier and clearer for everybody to follow.”

The system is also designed to create a less time-consuming process overall. Some of that comes from cutting out the time it takes for staff to transcribe the information recorded on paper forms, which Crick said hopefully will make for a speedier start for new applications.

It’ll also let staff perform fully digital reviews, with the ability to provide notes, comments, highlights and even drawings on PDF documents that provide a greater level of detail for applicants.

The old system as a whole was really “text-driven,” Crick said, and that made it more abstract for city staff to explain when trying to direct applicants to the correct place in their application to review any changes. Bringing things fully online is intended to remove some of the guesswork that applicants might previously have encountered when working through an application process.

“Hopefully, it’ll cut down on some of those times and that interaction for everybody so we can get (applications) up and through the reviews a lot quicker,” Crick said. “… This switch in the system really is a night and day switch from what we used to have.”

What the system doesn’t do, though, is lessen the rigor of application reviews or automate any part of the review process as it currently exists. Crick said while applicants will be able to submit application materials at any time, even on weekends and holidays, they’ll still be able to work closely with staff throughout the process if they so choose.

For seasoned veterans in the realm of business licenses and special event permits, that flexibility is one big benefit.

“We’re always here if anyone wants to pick up the phone and call and talk to us, but we also understand that sometimes you might be doing something that’s outside of hours,” Crick said. “We hope the new system is a way that, if you’re doing it over the weekend or something like that, you’d be able to use the system and get through the process without maybe having to talk to staff — but if you did have a question, we’d definitely be here and available.”

Thinking about what a new system for permitting and licensing might look like over the past several years has also been a good opportunity for the city to more closely evaluate what does — and doesn’t — work efficiently in its internal review process, Crick said.

“That’s been going on for quite a while for us,” Crick said. “Feb. 5 is going to be a big day, but it’s really been a lot of great work by numerous departments and divisions throughout the city to even get us here. It’s not just a Planning and Development Services thing — this has been an entire city-wide effort to get us to this point.”

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