Community Development Process Improvement Work session



Consider strategies for improvement of development review processes in Community Development. 



Tucker, Foley, Davis, Graham






August 10, 2005


ACTION:      X                          INFORMATION:



  ACTION:                                INFORMATION: 











The purpose of this report is to seek Board direction on implementation of process improvement strategies.  At the June 1st Board meeting, staff presented a number of possible strategies to improve Community Development processes and the Board selected five of those strategies to further consider.  Those five strategies were: 

Ministerial Reviews:  1) Reduce Planning Commission review of site plans and subdivisions

Legislative Reviews: 2) Limit the use of deferrals; 3) Implement a proffer policy

Policy Issues: 4) Better define expectations at the start of projects; and 5) define public involvement in each process

In addition to these proposed strategies, staff will also provide a brief overview of the CityView web enabled functions, which are currently being developed and anticipated to provide significant improvement in development review processes.   


Goal 3.3: Develop and implement policies that address the County’s growth and urbanization while continuing to enhance the factors that contribute to the quality of life in the County.

Goal 4.1: Protect effective, responsive and courteous service to our customers. 


A brief discussion of each strategy is provided.

1)       Reduce Planning Commission review of site plans and subdivisions.  Ministerial reviews are not a discretionary act and therefore, if the ordinance requirements are satisfied, the plan or plat should be approved.   By eliminating Planning Commission review of site plans and subdivision plats, staff avoids the need to prepare detailed reports, allowing quicker review of other plans and plats, and applicants do not need to wait for a Planning Commission review to be scheduled.  This will save considerable staff resources and reduce delays.  As noted in the June worksession, none of the surveyed localities provide for Planning Commission review of subdivisions and site plans.  Some localities do provide for Planning Commission review for larger sites or subdivisions, but appear to limit the circumstances.  Staff would recommend the Board consider the following ordinance changes for limiting Planning Commission review:

·         Proffered plans and special use permits - As these plans have already been reviewed by the Planning Commission and Board, review of the site plan or subdivision plat is somewhat redundant.  Staff would also recommend eliminating the notification requirements for these plans as the neighborhood was already notified when the rezoning or special use permit was reviewed. 


·         Subdivisions and site plans not requiring waivers or modifications requiring Planning Commission action – These plans seldom have anything affected by Planning Commission review. 


2)       Limit the use of deferrals with rezonings and special use permits.  Most of the time spent on rezonings is not related to staff review, but deferrals where applicants and staff try to find acceptable middle ground.  In this regard, the current review process is somewhat similar to a negotiation where the two parties attempt to find a middle ground.  The Planning Commission and staff seek to have the plan as close as possible to the ideal envisioned by the Comprehensive Plan, while the applicant seeks to avoid improvements that are not perceived to result in significantly higher prices.  For example, a proffered offsite road improvement does not improve the profits for the developer, but it does allow the County to address impacts created by the development.   By limiting the use of deferrals, both staff and the applicant know they have a deadline for completing these discussions.  Staff would recommend the Board consider the following:


·         Require a Planning Commission public hearing within 90 days of a complete submission.  Actually, this is what the County Code currently specifies and the use of deferrals keeps this from happening.  This would provide the applicant one set of comments and the opportunity to respond before the item is scheduled for a Planning Commission public hearing.  Even after a public hearing, the applicant could request a deferral.  If the Planning Commission felt the deferral could provide a better plan, the remaining issues could still be addressed.  It should also be noted the Planning Commission now offers a worksession prior to submitting applications where applicants can get directions prior to actually preparing the plans. 


·         Require a Board of Supervisors public hearing within 6 months of a complete submission. This would be another step to assure plans were not repeatedly deferred at the Planning Commission.  The downside of this approach is this would likely increase the number of plans brought to the Board with unresolved issues. Using this policy, the Board would decide which plans are ready for a decision and which plans should be returned to the Planning Commission for further work 


3)       Implement a proffer policy.  The County has never had a standardized approach to what are acceptable proffers, preferring to consider each plan on its individual merits.  This greatly increases the complexity of review for staff and applicants.  The applicant enters the process with no clear understanding of what might be expected. Staff enters the process with no baseline to evaluate against.  That increases uncertainty and causes delay.  A proffer policy would provide both staff and applicants a baseline against which the project could be evaluated.  In examining proffer policies of other urbanized counties, staff found the development of a proffer policy is often an extensive effort.  Additionally, it is not always successful.  For example, Henrico County spent over two years and significant resources in the development of a proffer policy only to have the Board decide it did not really work for them.  While a proffer policy could prove very beneficial in expediting reviews of rezonings, staff believes the Board should consider the following points:


·         Unlike many counties that have proffer policies, large parts of Albemarle County’s development areas have already been zoned to accommodate the proposed use.  Thus, the economic advantage of rezoning the property may be offset if the proffer policy is perceived to be too expensive.  In this situation, a case by case evaluation would still be needed to compare the current development potential versus proposed development potential with the rezoned property.  However, should the rezoning proceed, the time for negotiation of the ultimate proffers should be reduced.


·         Albemarle County attempts to direct people towards the development areas rather than the rural areas. Some have expressed the opinion that proffers will be passed on to homebuyers in the price of the house.  A formalized proffer policy for residential development could be perceived as an additional expense associated with the development areas while that does not exist for residential development in the rural areas.  However, since proffers are currently being provided in the development areas, the question is whether or not a policy to guide the provision of proffers would improve the process and shorten review times.  While housing in the development areas and rural area appear to be two different market segments, it may create the appearance to some that a formalized proffer policy is contrary to the County’s stated goals.


·         Development of a proffer policy is anticipated to be an extensive effort which would not provide benefits for several years.   While staff has not outlined an approach to developing a proffer policy, other counties that have developed proffer policies have advised staff to expect this effort to take several years and it will likely require considerable staff resources, supplemented by consultants.


·         While development of a proffer policy will require extensive effort, it can shorten the review process and relieve both staff and applicants of many frustrations during the rezoning process.     


4)       Better define expectations at the start of process.  Delays in Comprehensive Plan and ordinance amendments have occurred due to significant changes during the process.  The recent Rural Area Plan demonstrated how setting expectations at the start can reduce those delays.  By using a joint meeting between the Board and Planning Commission, staff was given clear expectations on what should and should not be considered with the Rural Area Plan.  That allowed staff to avoid delays by understanding the limits.  Conversely, staff has found that implementation of the Rural Area Plan has been difficult because the Board’s expectations with regard to subdivision phasing and clustering were not clearly understood.  This is part of the reason staff has requested a joint meeting of the Planning Commission and Board in September to discuss these issues.  By establishing the expectation, staff believes the schedule can be accelerated.  Staff believes this would be a relatively easy strategy to implement and one that has already proven to work.    


5)       Better define public involvement in each process.  Staff and the Board have seen considerable delays in implementing ordinance amendments, often frustrating both.  In evaluating those delays, it appears this often results from issues not being raised until the amendment is before the Board of Supervisors.  For example, the recent Subdivision Text Amendment had public discussions prior to being brought to the Planning Commission, worksessions and a public hearing before the Planning Commission, but still required 10 worksessions over 11 months with the Board because some concerns were not raised until the amendment was before the Board.   Beyond this unanticipated delay in implementing this ordinance amendment, staff resources that had been planned for work on other issues were instead spent on this process.  To improve this process, staff would recommend the Board consider when to expedite ordinance amendments by relying on the standard public hearings for input rather than including other public discussions.  While staff believes the public discussions can provide a good opportunity for receiving comments, it requires more time and resources if comments are not given until the ordinance amendment reaches the Board.  As such, the Board may be better served by expediting the public hearing, then determining what, if any, additional public discussion is required.  To implement this strategy, staff would recommend establishing the public participation process at the start of each policy initiative. 


Improve public access to development processes using CityView.  This effort has already been funded for this fiscal year and staff is now finalizing the contract with Municipal Software, who sells City View.  Staff has already begun implementing this effort by putting proffers on-line and recent counts have shown this to be one of the most popular sites on the County’s web page.  By next June, staff plans to be able to offer the following on-line services with CityView:






Staff has provided discussion of the proposed strategies and seeks Board input.  Staff notes several of these recommendations are relatively easy to implement. Those simple strategies include: a policy on deferrals with legislative reviews, establishing expectations and parameters for consideration of policy changes at the beginning of the process and establishing public participation guidelines at the start of policy review.  The strategy of changing the Planning Commission’s role in ministerial reviews would be a longer process as this would require ordinance amendments.  Staff anticipates the amendments will require six to nine months to complete.  Finally, staff considers development of a proffer policy a long-term effort which other localities have found requires several years to finalize.  If the Board is interested in developing a proffer policy, staff will develop a work plan and bring it to the Board for discussion.  



June 1, 2005 Executive Summary on Community Development Process Improvements

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