By CARL MARIO NUDI
When contractors needed to get building permits in Manatee County they would have to drive to downtown Bradenton, find a parking spot, take an elevator to the fourth floor of the Manatee County Administration Building to the Building and Development Services Department.
Not only did it take time away from the job site, but also finding a parking space for a big pickup towing a trailer could be a headache.
“It takes a lot of time for contractors and subcontractors to come downtown to get a permit,” said John Barnott, director of the county building and development services department. “It’s time away from the job.”
That was why when the opportunity to open a satellite office for his department, Barnott moved on it.
The department opened the Building and Development Services North River Annex, 5030 U.S. 301, in Ellenton, on Jan. 17.
“I have wanted to do something like this for a while,” Barnott said. “I looked at the availability of services we provide for our customers.
“Look at the county tax collector,” he said. “Ken Burton has multiple locations (for residents to access tax collector services) around the county.”
When the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office closed the sub-station in the Ellenton facility, Barnott saw an opportunity to expand his customer service.
“Back in the spring , I was made aware that the building was going to become vacated,” he said. “The county has a long-term lease with the state, which owns the building.”
So Barnott got the gears moving, and with Manatee County Commission approval in May , began renovation of the three-octagon pod building that was built in the 1980s as a tourist visitor’s center.
Although the commission has approved hundreds of new homes in the eastern part of the county near Parrish, Barnott said most of the customers using this new facility will not be developers.
“There’s a misconception about who are the largest users of the department services,” he said. “Eighty-six to 88 percent of the permits issued are for replacement windows, renovations of kitchens or bathrooms and remodeling work — not for new homes.
“The large developers are using our online services,” he said.
All permitting, planning, development and review services offered at the downtown office will be offered at the new annex.
Hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Mindy Carver, county permitting services supervisor at the North River Annex said 10 to 20 people a day have stopped by the facility for permits or for building services information since the annex opened on Jan. 17.
“Most are finding out about the new facility from the staff at the downtown office,” Carver said. “I think it will get busier as the word gets out.”
Many of those who are using the new annex are contractors needing permits for swimming pools and aluminum pool cages, she said.
“Also there are a lot of mobile home parks in the area, so they are issuing permits for mobile homes, Carver said.
The convenience and easy access to the building has been a big hit.
“The contractors have commented about the parking to accommodate their trucks with trailers,” said Carver. “They say it’s very convenient.
“When they go downtown they have to park in the alley behind the county building, and there’s not much room back there,” she said.
When a homeowner or contractor walks into the North River Annex they are greeted quickly by one of at least six building services staffers working there.
On the counter in the center pod are two large computer screens, one for the staff person to look up information pertaining to the customer’s question or permit, and the other for the customer to follow what the staffer is doing.
They use the double computer on the front desk so customers can see the same information the county employee is checking, Carver said,
“And with the county GIS map service, we can point out various locations,” she said. “For example a homeowner had a question about a lot line, and we could show him on the map what he wanted to know.”
There also is a brochure rack by the entrance with informational printouts on such items as building permits, a handyman guide and code enforcement.
The flood protection brochure can provide a homeowner who lives in a flood hazard area with the information needed to protect their home.
And if more information is required, a specialist from the department’s flood division is available.
“There are a lot of peculiarities in the flood regulations,” said Sally Cook, a county construction review specialist. “We can help the homeowner with the information they may need for flood insurance.”
Carver said the county is really big on customer service.
“Our goal is to keep them wanting to come back,” she said. “There’s not a choice like there is for them when choosing between which store to go to.
“We want to make it so they enjoy coming here,” Carver said.
The success of the North River Annex impressed Barnott, the department director, enough that he is thinking of expanding.
“I’m already looking for another location in east county,” he said. “We want to provide better service.”
And the county administration was looking at how well the annex performs.
“The [Manatee] County Administration Building, Courthouse and Judicial Center have been the focal point of county business for 100 years, Nicholas Azzara, the county information outreach manager, wrote in an email. “But leaders in the county recognize that downtown Bradenton is a long drive for people who live in Lakewood Ranch, Parrish and beyond.”
Azzara said the new building and development services annex in Ellenton was fulfilling the need of bringing government closer to the people who use it.
“Going forward, I think you’ll see county commissioners have conversations over how to provide government services to those growing areas as a matter of convenience to local taxpayers,” he said.
For more information about Manatee County government services, call 941-748-4501. To reach the North River Annex, call 941-749-3077.