New Hanover County Enhances Service to Business Community

New Hanover County is always looking for ways to improve the customer experience and increase citizen satisfaction. It is one of our strategic objectives for effective county management, and it is a daily driver for each of our departments.

With that in mind, New Hanover County recently divided the Planning and Inspections Department into two separate departments. We believe that separating the departments will serve the business community and homeowners best, and I am pleased with the changes that have occurred so far.

These two departments have been renamed to better describe their vital development functions, which are the Department of Planning and Land Use and the Department of Building Safety. I want to share what each department will be responsible for and what you can expect as you do business with the county…

The Department of Planning and Land Use, led by Chris O’Keefe, provides guidance and direction in the adoption and enforcement of policies and regulations, which ensure orderly building and construction, environmental stewardship, growth and economic development, and long-range community development in the county. This work involves the collection and evaluation of data, research and analysis of options and alternatives, enforcement of adopted codes and the selection and implementation of projects and programs. The county’s recently adopted Comprehensive Plan helps staff compile this information and will guide land-use decisions into the future.

Planning and Land Use promotes compliance with the zoning ordinance and has a critical role in the building permit process. Engaging the construction community early on assures that buildings are properly placed on approved lots meeting setbacks, buffers and required easements. The department also works to ensure compliance with flood plain standards and the State’s Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA) requirements. In 2017, the department will also be developing a Unified Development Ordinance, which will consolidate all regulations that govern development in New Hanover County.

The Department of Building Safety, led by newly-hired Nicholas Gadzekpo, safeguards the life, health, and property of all New Hanover County residents. The department has three divisions:

  • Administration – Oversees the entire department.
  • Development Coordination – Provides one-stop services for managing the work flows related to all permits and approvals in the county’s development services center, by coordinating plan reviews and interfacing with all necessary internal and external stakeholders in order for a permit to be issued.
  • Inspections – Includes commercial and residential inspections for properties after the permit is issued.

Each division, with their varying responsibilities, is focused on the safety of our citizens.

The Building Safety Department administers the North Carolina State Building Codes, which include Commercial Building, Residential Building, Plumbing, Mechanical, Fuel Gas, Electrical, Existing Building, Accessibility and Administration Codes. These standards are upheld through building plan examination, permitting, and inspections for structural, electrical, plumbing and mechanical as well as miscellaneous items like signs, fences, and manufactured home setups.

Impactful, powerful changes are already taking place in these two departments – both separately and collaboratively. The departments have worked on and revised their processes to reduce review times and provide better customer service. These process improvements are being done in anticipation of new software that is being developed to replace what is currently in place for inspections, permits and planning.

The new software will be used by all departments that have review responsibilities for land development in the county, including Engineering, Environmental Health, Fire Services, and more. It will create better coordination among all departments, and will be easier to navigate and provide real-time information for the customer.

Developed using input from customers, stakeholders and employees, the software is anticipated to be completed by the end of 2017. It will be a great improvement and will make the county even easier to do business with.

In addition, both departments will be sending out surveys to their customers in the coming months to gauge their level of service. This will provide direction on how to improve and deliver value to citizens.

Most recently, Planning and Land Use created a development activity website that will make it easier for the community to see development projects and permit activity in the areas of the county outside city and town limits. It includes application materials and site plans, staff contacts, community meeting dates and outcomes, and a development activity map.

This website, developed completely in-house, is a great example of your county listening and acting on citizens’ requests for development information earlier in the process. The public can now access development information right after an application is submitted, allowing more time for residents to review proposed developments and provide feedback to the county. It is an innovative website, and I believe it is the most comprehensive, user-friendly development activity site in our area.

For Building Safety, there is a need for a smoother, easier, and more productive permitting and inspections process. That often starts with our first interaction with a customer on the phone. So the department is currently working on a new system that will direct customers to the correct person for their call, eliminating long hold times and ensuring customers receive the most helpful information.

Planning and Land Use and Building Safety will continue to work hand-in-hand as a function of our Development Services Center. The center, located in Suite 170 of the Government Center, will continue to provide coordinated and personalized assistance to citizens for planning, permitting, engineering and inspections. Our Development Services website will continue to provide detailed information about each of the services offered; and in the coming months, improvements will be made to these webpages to reflect the departments’ specific functions.

All of this is being done to serve our business community in the most efficient, productive way possible. I believe that customer satisfaction will continue to increase as additional progress is made in these two vital departments.

Through innovation and strategic improvements for our customers, New Hanover County is committed to be the model of good governance and to keep our community safe, healthy, and secure.

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