6 Reasons Local Governments Should Switch to Online Zoning Permits


Municipalities and counties have traditionally managed zoning permits and variance applications through paper or PDF applications. With online zoning permit software, local governments can streamline the zoning process. The benefits of bringing zoning permits online include improvements in efficiency, transparency, communication, cost reductions, and more.

What are the goals of local zoning ordinances?

Zoning permits and variances are some of the more complex (and sometimes contentious!) processes that local governments require. Zoning codes have been developed to allow governments to regulate land use within their jurisdiction to promote specific goals: 

  • safety (keeping schools and residences at a distance from potentially hazardous industry), 
  • property values (regulating the amount of housing or commercial development), maintaining historic districts, 
  • preserving green spaces, 
  • ensuring that traditional uses (such as agriculture) continue

Historically, zoning has been used for discriminatory purposes and it remains a contentious issue in many places. Residents may have widely differing opinions on whether there should be height or density restrictions in certain areas.

How are zoning codes applied?

Zoning codes are applied to regions of a local jurisdiction, and some proposed uses may require special review or a zoning variance.  Some areas are zoned for commercial use, while others are designated only for residential construction. Most local zoning processes involve a two-step process:

  1. Zoning determination
  2. Zoning hearing or approval process (not always required). 

Traditionally most zoning processes have happened via paper-based applications and “over the counter” submissions, or via PDF forms that are downloaded and emailed.  Both these methods result in slow approvals and a lack of transparency for local residents. Making the switch to online zoning permits has a variety of benefits.

Keep reading to learn more about six different benefits of online zoning, or get in touch with our team to get a personalized plan for bringing your zoning process online.

6 Benefits of Online Zoning Permits

1. Transparency in the Permit Process

When local governments switch to online zoning permits and determinations, sharing data and records with the community becomes much easier. Paperwork is greatly reduced or eliminated, and information flows in a much more efficient manner When information is collected digitally it’s much easier to share it and make it searchable by the public.

When data becomes transparent, all parties are able to access current applications and  historical records, and be alerted to updates and new developments in real-time.

2. Convenience

By making the switch to online zoning permits, applications become available directly on your website and are available to use 24/7. Your constituents can then quickly and conveniently file on your website using any mobile or desktop device. 

Automating this process also enables applicants to print records of completed permits for themselves.

3. Cost and Time Savings

Requests can be managed electronically and routed automatically  to employees throughout all relevant departments. Applicants can track their status in a multi-step zoning process at any time through their account. As a result, your organization can:

  • Eliminate communication silos
  • Reduce unscheduled phone calls and walk-ins asking for updates
  • Minimize redundant work

Your staff can review and address paperless applications and other requests more efficiently.

4. Data Integrity and Actionable Insights

Manual data entry is never ideal. Wildly inefficient, manual data entry is also infamous for human error that can result in a lack of accuracy and integrity.

With online zoning permits, your staff are free from this mundane task and can now spend time on work that adds significantly more value. Plus, the right digital tools place the burden of complete and accurate data gathering on the applicant. 

When data is accumulated accurately over time, you know it has integrity and can be comfortable leveraging this information. And when this happens, trends and insights organically materialize: 

  • Good data means better tracking and  enforcement. If your zoning department knows that violations are more likely to happen in one geographic area, the department becomes that much more effective and efficient with its resources and efforts.
  • Good data enables performance optimization. For example, when you can track how long it takes to complete various steps in the zoning permit process, you can take action to improve specific parts of the process. 

5. This Digital Stuff Isn’t Going Away

Many organizations continue to resist digital transformation. This resistance—whether due to real or imagined complexity, expense, or simple inertia—is only putting off the inevitable. 

The sooner local governments adapt and adopt online zoning permits, the sooner they can begin enjoying all of the benefits doing so can offer. 

Taking the Next Step

The easiest way to take advantage of all the benefits discussed above is to move your paper processing of zoning permits online. 

Making the switch is easier than you might think. Software platforms offer low-cost and easy-to-learn solutions

You want to make the permitting process faster for your constituents and your employees. What if moving that process online could be simple, cost-effective and didn’t require any technical knowledge, IT support, or expensive custom software?

The CityGrows team can get you started with this exact type of software. Contact us for a free demo today.

No credit card or up-front payment required to get started.
Free for 30 days. You can export your data at any time.