Don’t Mess with Texas — or Their Permits: OpenCounter’s Partnership with Fort Worth

To say that Fort Worth is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country would be an understatement. In fact, the city’s population has grown 63 percent since 2000. And that influx of people means a lot more opportunities for housing and business development — and a lot more frustration when it comes to permitting.

With the volume of permit-related inquiries reaching new heights, Fort Worth knew it needed a strategic partner to alleviate headaches for constituents and city staff alike, so they turned to OpenCounter to transform their permitting process.

The Challenge

The volume of questions the city was fielding around permit discovery was dizzying. In 2019 alone, Fort Worth’s Development Services team received nearly 200,000 inquiries coming from every direction:

  • 39,317 walk-ins
  • 54,800 emails
  • 101,386 phone calls

“Our community and development stakeholders have been asking for innovative ways to access and compile useful information that would help them make informed decisions as they contemplate development projects,” said D.J. Harrell, head of the Development Services Department.

“This program responds by providing users with reliable and site-specific predevelopment feedback on project requirements and associated permitting costs, 24 hours a day. This tool will greatly enhance the customer experience by reducing reliance on face-to-face interaction and other time-intensive methods of service delivery.”

Additionally, with ownership of 75 permits spread across multiple departments, internal communications were difficult and there was limited transparency when it came to calculating fees, which were siloed in the city’s back-end systems. To help applicants tabulate their fees and help staff achieve operational efficiency, any new solution would need to be integrated into their existing technology infrastructure.

The Solution

The experts at OpenCounter quickly got down to business, working in lockstep with the city’s team to align on priorities, ensuring the OpenCounter solution would integrate with Accela on the back end, and identifying the resources applicants would need to ensure only complex questions made their way to the city’s Development Services team.

With visions of internal efficiency on the horizon, not to mention tremendous cost savings, we devised a solution to simplify the permit discovery process and empower applicants with the information they needed — when they needed it.

Core components of the solution include:

  • Ensuring the zoning maps applicants view in OpenCounter are always up-to-date by normalizing the city’s intricate web of zoning requirements — including more than 1,400 planned developments.
  • Delivering real-time cost estimates to applicants by having worked with staff to determine when permits apply and having imported fee tables and schedules based on identified variables and inputs.
  • Providing a solid knowledge base around “what is required for a project.”

“Fort Worth has needed an online permit discovery solution for years,” said Michelle Reynolds, the city’s senior planner and development project facilitator. “After some initial plans to build our own platform, it was clear that we needed help translating our complex permitting infrastructure and workflows into language that applicants can quickly understand.

Commercial portal location screenCommercial portal fees screen

The Outcome

The solutions delivered for Fort Worth — including a Zoning Portal, Business Portal, and Residential Portal — provides a number of substantial wins for both staff and constituents:

  • Applicants receive answers to their complex zoning questions in less than 60 seconds. Constituents no longer have to make a trip to City Hall for an answer, and staff can focus on other aspects of their work that drive permit revenue.
  • No more confusion around which of Fort Worth’s 75 permits a project needs. After answering just a few questions, applicants can see a list of all the permits they’ll need for their specific project.
  • Applicants get accurate, comprehensive fee estimates online, which means new business owners are no longer sideswiped by unexpected bills for impact fees just as they’re preparing to open their doors.
  • Staff is poised to realize significant time savings — thousands of hours annually — now that many applicants will be able to answer their questions online through OpenCounter’s self-service portals.

Our success in Fort Worth brings us one step closer to realizing OpenCounter’s mission to help cities streamline service delivery and promote economic development in their communities.

“I’m thrilled to add Fort Worth to the list of municipal governments that have turned to OpenCounter to transform their permitting systems,” said Joel Mahoney, CEO of OpenCounter. “Small businesses are such an important part of what makes a city great, and seeing first-hand the positive effect OpenCounter will have on economic development in Fort Worth will be incredibly rewarding.”