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New Online Tool Will Help Developers and Residents Assess Potential Projects 24/7

July 31, 2023 News

Polk County has unveiled a cutting-edge virtual assistant tool, Develop Polk, to answer land-use and building regulation questions while estimating permitting and project fees – all in an effort to eliminate a backlog in permitting in the Building Division. 

“We want to be a county that is on the cutting edge of technology. Additionally, we want to set the bar for other jurisdictions,” Dunn said. “We believe being the best at what we do requires investing in technology that can better serve our customers. That is exactly what we are doing.” 

John Bohde, director of the county’s Office of Planning and Development, said: “Polk County continues to be a leader in the use of technology to advance our Building and Land Development offices. The technology being leveraged is assisting Polk County to work smarter and to be more efficient.” 

With the county growing at such a fast pace, “the Building Division was experiencing enormous permitting backlogs. We wanted to find a tool that could help in providing necessary information to our customers, which could help free up staff time so they could further work on closing the gap in the permitting backlog,” he said.  

Develop Polk

The tool, powered by Open Counter, will be handy for everyone from site selectors and those looking to open a business in Polk County to residents embarking on projects, said Benjamin Dunn, Building Division director. 

The tool will help with economic development because “the ability to have access to accurate information plays a role in the site-selection process,” Dunn said. “Develop Polk allows one to see if a proposed use on a property is permitted, not permitted, or requires some type of conditions. In addition, it provides you the ability to evaluate land-use changes that may allow a proposed use on a property to go from not permitted to permitted.” 
Other jurisdictions that use the tool are Orlando, DeLand, St. Cloud, Miami (for economic development purposes) and Pasco County.  

What can You Do?

Develop Polk “will help guide residents embarking on simple or complex projects, such as building or renovating a home” and developers who want to evaluate property for residential, commercial or retail development, Dunn said. The best part: It’s available 24/7.  

“A critical feature for us was the integration with Accela (Building and Land Development Permitting System). This allows a person to save an initial project inquiry on Develop Polk and then integrate it with Accela and navigate through the Building and/or Land Development permitting processes,” Dunn said. “This in theory could all be done without speaking to anyone on staff.” 

He said they required Euna Solutions, which owns Open Counter, to  integrate the tool with Accela, “and they were able to accomplish this for us. We are their first client to have this feature.”   

Staff can use Develop Polk to access data and analytics. “It allows us to see what types of inquires customers have, the location that they are looking at and the contact information,” he said. “In addition, it generates heat maps identifying the information by portal (Land Use, Commercial and Residential) that the customers are asking about and location.” 

 That data can be downloaded into a spreadsheet for further analysis. “The analytics is important from an economic development position. It allows us to see what types of businesses people are looking at potentially locating in the county and where, along with generating maps that provide us with a visual aid.”   

 The Future

 The tool took about six months to produce, and Dunn said it’s not done.  

 “My plan is to enhance it over time and hopefully help the company integrate a high level of artificial intelligence into the program,” he said. “The tool that we have offered today is the baseline, but the vision is to grow it over time so it can provide more information and hopefully situational analysis for the customer.” 

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