Paperless permitting - a computerized process designed to allow greater efficiency and transparency for 76 different construction and land use-related permits from three town departments - began last week. "About 49 building permits, 22 health permits, and five zoning permits are available to apply for online," said town Information Technology Director Andrew Neblett. "This will allow residents and consumers to start and track new land use-type permits. It can also be used to search records," Neblett said in an email announcing the system. The electronic application process doesn't apply to permits that require review by the Planning and Zoning Commission - such as subdivisions or special permits for commercial buildings or multifamily projects, zone change requests, proposed amendments to regulations. But the new online system does apply to a wide array of administrative permits - permits that were previously available with a visit to the town hall annex, and did not require review by an elected board or commission. And many of more routine land use-related permits - with a couple of exceptions - will no longer be available through paper applications. "All applications will now be accepted in electronic form only," Neblett said. "The online permit system is available from any computer or device connected to the Internet." "The new portal is available from the ridgefieldct.org town of Ridgefield website. There is a button that says 'Online Permit System,'" Neblett said. Creating e-accounts People will have to set up electronic accounts. "You can sign up for an account from anywhere in the world and you only have to do it once," Neblett said. Or they can do that at the annex. "There are two computer kiosks at the annex for people to create permit applications," Neblett said. "If they do not have an account, they can create one on the computer at that time. The account setup is very easy. All applicants must have an online account and a valid email address." The computers in the town hall annex offices will allow people who have trouble using the system, or setting up their account, to come in and get help from town staff. "You can do either-or," First Selectman Rudy Marconi said. "You can try it from home, and if you can't do it you can go in and there's a computer terminal there and someone will help you." "We finally have an new online system in place to make Ridgefield more 'business-friendly.'" said John Devine of the Economic and Community Development Commission (ECDC). "Our businesses can now apply online for many of the necessary permits that previously required multiple visits to the town hall annex. "Minimizing trips was a key objective, as most of our businesses are independently owned and the trips were time-consuming and expensive for a sole proprietor," Devine said. "I personally investigated the process by handling the applications for the Audrey Road expansion a year ago, and a total of 16 trips were required to complete the process." "I think it's a great idea," said Bob Jewell, an attorney who does a lot of land use work in Ridgefield. "You have no idea how much paperwork - and space - some applications take up." As a land use attorney, Jewell will still have to deal with many paper applications filed in the town hall annex - for permits that require A-2 surveys, in-person signatures, or commission review. 'Long time coming' Planning and Zoning Department Director Richard Baldelli thinks people will like the new system. "Now that you can submit non-commission permit applications from your home or office, and that researchers no longer have to come to the office to review permit information, I believe the online program will be a convenience and cost savings to all," he said. "We can anticipate a few kinks with the initiation of the new system, but they will eventually be corrected, and then permit applications and research requests should be substantially easier for everybody - especially if you are a night owl, you can do this stuff at 3 in the morning instead of Monday to Friday from 8 to 4." "An interesting aspect," Marconi said, "is it will allow files on every property in town to be viewed by the general public - although anyone attempting to view information will need an account in the system." Setting the system up so records can be searched required the transfer of a tremendous amount of information - and a lot of work, Marconi said. "It's been a long time coming, the importing of all the data into the new system, cleansing everything," he said. "There are still approximately 1,000 files that are considered to be inaccurate, but relative to the large number of files that are OK, we had to move forward," Marconi said. Efficiency There are many reasons the town made the change. "There is an efficiency factor here as well as a paperless one. Everything is going digital and the town is changing to support this trend," Neblett said. "Our goal was to update the software so that we can provide online service, electronic format and storage, a better workflow, easier transparency for the public (they can search permits online and also see the status of their permits throughout the process). "We continue to look to simplify the process and to one day be 100% electronic," Neblett added. "Some permits we cannot do electronic yet, but we are working on getting them there."