The City of Atlanta takes the pain out of the permit application process for small businesses


The Challenge 

The City of Atlanta needed to make its permitting and zoning processes easier on applicants. By automating customer service tasks so applicants can easily identify the permits they need, the city provides real-time estimates of the cost and complexity of applicable permitting requirements to its business owners.

To drive economic development and small business growth, Atlanta’s Office of Zoning and Development is constantly on the lookout for innovative ways to enhance customer service for the city’s entrepreneurs. That’s because the process for obtaining building, planning, zoning, and engineering permits at the City of Atlanta can be incredibly complex, sometimes requiring plan review from more than 11 distinct municipal agencies. 

And while the City’s website offered numerous documents around permit types and the various processes, it was difficult for any business owner to understand which forms are necessary for their specific project — let alone where to begin the process altogether. That confusion often led applicants to make countless phone calls, emails, and visits to City Hall to get the answers they needed, resulting in a backlog of inquiries for the City’s teams to handle every day. That meant a lot less time available for workers to focus on permit review and issuance, as well as other high-priority projects.

Faced with frustration from applicants, endless work for the City Hall workers, and an inability to adequately fuel Atlanta’s economic engine, the city turned to OpenCounter.

The Solution 

The city recognized the need for a digital one-stop-shop that would help applicants determine their permit requirements and projected fees based on their project type.

OpenCounter’s products are specifically designed to give applicants that information — so when it’s time to come to City Hall, they’re ready to have an informed discussion. The end result? Citizens have easier interactions with their local government, the quality of applicants increases, and municipal staff saves thousands of hours every year usually spent answering those redundant pre-application questions.

That’s because the solutions delivered to the City of Atlanta — our ZoningCheck, Business Portal, and Residential Portal — translate dense municipal code and opaque processes into an easy-to-understand series of questions that gets applicants the information they need in minutes — not days or weeks. The hundreds of factors that determine the complexity of a permitting application are centralized into an accessible online experience that provides adaptive permit scoping, real-time feel calculations, intuitive zoning maps, and more. Business owners know exactly what to expect, meaning no unexpected costs down the road.

Check out ATL Permit Navigator 

The Results 

  • Nearly 6,500 staff hours saved in 2020.
  • Average time to scope a new business project: six minutes.
  • Residents have 24/7/365 access to a self-service portal that details how much the permitting process will cost, how long it will take, and how complex it will be for their specific project.
  • All portals were configured and launched in just six months.
  • Available to users in seven languages — English, Spanish, Korean, Hindi, Vietnamese, French, and Simplified Chinese — meaning more people can become a part of Atlanta’s economic engine.