BEAUFORT, S.C. – Dropbox, Zoom, and old-fashioned phone calls have replaced face-to-face meetings with developers and builders in the City of Beaufort’s Planning Office – but it’s working, according to Martie Kay McTeer, the development review coordinator in the Department of Community and Economic Development.
In fact, business has been steady. In March 2020, after the City closed most of its offices to the public, McTeer’s office handled nine single-family home and two commercial building permit applications, compared to four homes and no commercial buildings in March of 2019. Her office has continued to stay busy through April.
The department set up various ways for customers to submit their plans and communicate with staff. It enlarged its online Dropbox file, so that bigger plans could be transmitted electronically. And it set up a table and bin in the lobby of City Hall outside the office – one for developers to drop their plans in, another for them to pick up the plan once it has been approved.
“If it is a large, complex plan, we would normally schedule a pre-design, in-person meeting,” McTeer said. “Now we are meeting by Zoom.”
In the past, developers would drop off their plans along with a check to cover the initial fees. Now, they are asked to set up an electronic account and pay through that. Department Director David Prichard thinks that is likely to continue. “Some builders and developers may not live here,” he said. “Maybe they live in Charleston. They may decide that meeting online and paying online makes more sense.”
As part of her job, McTeer coordinates with the outside agencies involved in permitting all new construction – Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority, South Carolina Department of Transportation, and the SC Department of Environmental Control, etc. She shepherds plans through the office and various stages before they go back to the builder. “The process is working pretty smoothly,” she said. “We’ve adjusted to it and so have developers.”