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Inside Town Government

Building and Zoning

By Ron Scopelliti

When you visit the Building and Zoning Office at Smithfield Town Hall, one of the key things you’re likely to notice is what isn’t there – filing cabinets overflowing with permit applications, engineering drawings, and all the paperwork commonly associated with such offices. That’s because over the past year, the department has moved to a more streamlined, efficient, and predominately paperless on-line permitting process.

“We’ve gone from busting at the seams, looking for more space, to having empty file cabinets in nine months,” said Building and Zoning official James Cambio.

The new online permitting procedure has been one of the biggest changes since Cambio took over as head of the department last year, having previously served in a similar capacity in East Providence.

The department’s main responsibilities, as outlined on its website, are interpreting and enforcing the state’s building and housing codes, and the town’s zoning ordinances. They also enforce various other state and town regulations, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In addition to Cambio, the department has three other full-time employees: a building inspector, a clerk, and a zoning/property maintenance inspector. They also have a part-time electrical inspector, and a part-time plumbing/mechanical inspector.

The small department is currently handling a bit of a building boom in town.

“We have a lot of single-family lots,”Cambio said, pointing out developments in the areas of Log Rd., Mountaindale Rd., Clark Rd., and Burlingame Rd.

“They’re putting up a lot of big houses,” he said. “They’re building $700,000 houses and they’re selling.”

There are also four large condominium developments, as well as projects in the town’s industrial/office corridor on Rte. 7.

Cambio said that the new online permitting system “makes everybody’s lives a lot easier,” when it comes to handling the multitude of permits and associated documents that go along with such development.

The ViewPoint Cloud system, which was instituted as part of a statewide initiative, is now the only way for homeowners and contractors to apply for Building Permits, Demolition Permits, Electrical Permits, Mechanical Permits, Moving Permits, and Plumbing Permits.

“It’s a very user-friendly system,” Cambio said. He noted that builders are particularly fond of it, because they no longer have to travel to the office to complete paperwork, but can do it from their homes or offices. And, since it’s a statewide system, when contractors create an account for one town, it’s valid throughout the state.

It also streamlines the entire permitting and review process by integrating other town departments.

“When a permit application is received,” Cambio noted, “it automatically goes to fire and building, so the initial reviews can be done simultaneously.” Engineering and zoning are also integrated into the system, so instead of documents being passed back and forth between departments, they can now be reviewed and approved simultaneously in the ViewPoint Cloud system. Cambio said that all actions taken on the documents are date-stamped and time-stamped online.

“It’s easy to track,” he said of the process. “If there’s a delay, it’s easy to find out where and why.”

For people who are intimidated by the thought of applying online, the Building and Zoning Office maintains a kiosk, where they can guide people through the process.

“If people don’t feel comfortable doing it, they come here and we walk them through it,” Cambio said.

While he noted that Smithfield residents are generally well-educated and knowledgeable about the town’s building and zoning policies, he’s hoping to improve access to information on the web site, which already has an extensive FAQ and a number of downloadable documents. And the door is always open for people to come in and ask questions.

“We welcome people to come in with any building and zoning issues,” he said. “That’s really what we’re here for – to give people the right answers and make sure things are done correctly.”

“I think people have the wrong idea with the building department sometimes,” Cambio said. “There’s a building code; and that code is to protect people – it’s not to make people’s lives more difficult. And that’s why we insist that people follow the code. It’s in their best interest to see that things are done the way they’re supposed to be.”

The Building and Zoning Office is located on the lower level of Town Hall. For more information, call 233-1039, or visit www.smithfieldri.com/building-zoning.

To access the ViewPoint Cloud online permitting system, visit smithfieldri.viewpointcloud.com.