Homeowners and contractors can now apply online for building permits in seven Berkshire County towns in an effort to make the permitting process more efficient for the applicants and municipalities.

Becket, Dalton, Lee, Lenox, Monterey, Richmond and Sheffield, through the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, have instituted "Permit Eyes," a computer program allows 24/7 access to each town's building and other construction-related application forms, including electrical, gas, plumbing and sheet metal.

BRPC and town officials say the goal is to eliminate the need to apply in person during regular town hall business hours.

"Contractors out on a job won't have to worry about getting to town hall before closing time," said BRPC assistant director Thomas Matuszko. "This also allows more time for inspectors to do their jobs."

"It's about the convenience to the user," added Richmond Town Administrator Matthew Kerwood, "especially given we are a part-time town hall."

The BRPC hired Full Circle Technologies, Inc., using a $111,000 state grant, to develop the permit program, which was recently activated on each town's website. The service is free, but applicants are still responsible for all permit fees established by each community, listed with the appropriate forms.

First-time online applicants must register with Permit Eyes before filling out the forms. Once registered, basic information, such as a contractor's license number, are shared with all seven towns.

The program acts as a clearinghouse, making it easier for builders to apply in other participating communities, officials said.

In addition to filing out a basic form, the online building permit process allows for attachments, such as building plans, photos and specifications. Once reviewed by a town's building inspectors, the completed applications are forwarded to the other town officials required to sign off on the permit request.

The program also ensures the application is properly completed on the first try, according to Lenox building inspector William Thornton.

"We would get about 65 to 75 percent of building permit forms that were incomplete," he noted. "Now being online, there are mandatory items noted on the application that must be filled out or you can't submit it."

While six of the towns still accept hand-delivered building permit applications, Lenox has converted to an online-only permitting process.

Thornton said those without access to a computer can use one at Lenox Town Hall or at the town Library.

Since Lenox switched to a paperless permit system two months ago, town inspectors have found they are spending less time in the office processing the applications and more time in the field.

"By not having people lined up at the door, we can work on [the applications] at a good pace," Thornton said. "It's also given us time to catch up on such things as certification of multiple-family homes."

Online building permits also means fewer filing cabinets to maintain the constructiondocuments, according to Kerwood.

By law, we have to store the permits and building plans in perpetuity," he said. "This offers a better tracking system of the permits and saves space."

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.