Somerville Overhauls Development Permitting Process with New Web Portal

Permit Tracking System aims to make development permitting in Somerville more streamlined, straightforward, and transparent

As part of ongoing efforts to overhaul planning and zoning in Somerville, the City has launched a new web-based permitting portal for proposals that require approval by the Planning Board or Zoning Board of Appeals. 

The Permit Tracking System portal, which debuted last month at somervillezoning.com, is a one-stop informational resource and application tool that completely revolutionizes the Planning & Zoning permitting process. As recently as 2019, the process was entirely paper-based, often requiring applicants make trips to City Hall, download and print forms, and submit stacks of drawings via mail or courier service. When the pandemic hit, staff established an interim process to keep approvals moving, which had its own set of challenges, but they drew on lessons learned from more than a year of working remotely in the development of the new digital portal. Now, you can begin your application on a cell phone. The application process is almost completely online, simplified and streamlined for both applicants and staff. 

The new platform features all necessary forms, automated notifications, and deadline reminders to guide applicants through each step of the process. Documents are provided in a native-web format that can be accessed via translation applications, mobile devices, and screen readers. Homeowners and less experienced development teams can make use of printable guides, checklists, and worksheets to organize required documentation, as well as a simple survey tool to direct them to the proper permitting path for their proposed project. Each application is given a tracking number, and project milestones are recorded and communicated to both planners and applicants to move the review forward smoothly. 

“I can't stress enough how radically this new platform will change permitting in the Planning & Zoning Division,” said Sarah Lewis, Director of Planning & Zoning. “We are always working to improve our processes and resources, and this new tool will be instrumental to ensuring we provide exceptional customer service to residents, property owners, and businesses.” 

The online system and review procedures also reflect new requirements and statutory deadlines established in the Somerville Zoning Ordinance, adopted in December 2019. Under the new Ordinance, only the larger projects in the city's Mid Rise and High Rise districts, which require more public engagement, will be handled by the Planning & Zoning Division. For the vast majority of smaller projects in Neighborhood Residence and Urban Residence zoning districts, the process will be much simpler, with applications reviewed by Inspectional Services only and on a shorter time frame. 

“This new approach to permitting is a game-changer,” said Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone. “We worked for years with the community to overhaul our zoning policy – the next step is to overhaul the process, and I’m grateful to this team for their continued creativity and innovative thinking. We need these kinds of tools and systems in place to make sure our policies are truly working for everyone in the community.”  

Throughout the summer, additional improvements to the portal will be deployed, including updated submission requirements, detailed application guidance, and a dedicated Q&A tool. The Development Permit Tracking System can be accessed from the Development Review tab on somervillezoning.com or directly atsomervillezoning.com/developmentreview.