COUNTY OF ALBEMARLE
Alternative Engineering Review Pilot Program Report
Expedited Engineering Review of final plans
Tucker, Foley, Davis, Kamptner, Graham, Brooks, Schuck
LEGAL REVIEW: Yes
April 4, 20007
ACTION: INFORMATION: X
On September 13, 2006, the Board, at the recommendation of the Development Review Process Task Force, approved a two year pilot program designed to simplify staff review and approval of final engineering plans. To address concerns that the pilot program have well-defined criteria, the review checklist was made very detailed, with a strict format of plan content and certification. Additionally, it was agreed that six month updates would be provided to the Board throughout the pilot program to verify it was working as planned. The pilot program was initiated on the County website on October 3, 2006 and this update covers the first six months of the pilot program.
Goal Four: Effectively Manage Growth and Development.
This pilot program was originally proposed by staff as a way to improve consistency and reduce staff workload by reducing the need for numerous resubmissions as applicants sought to meet requirements. At the time this program was being developed, the queue for engineering reviews was in excess of 100 plans and it was often four to six weeks before staff would start review of a plan submission. For the development community, the benefit of this program was seen as a way to reduce costs by reducing the time required to gain plan approval. That said, while the pilot program’s process can dramatically reduce the delays for plan reviews and the need for multiple submissions, many plan preparers found the review checklist to be extremely rigorous, making it much more expensive to prepare a plan, and have elected not to use the program. In the six months since inception, staff has received only three plans submitted under this program. In each case, County engineering review was completed within one to three days of submittal and the plans all met County requirements. Of the three plans reviewed, one was approved within one day of submission. The other two plans received tentative County approvals, but had to wait for approval by outside agencies (e.g. VDOT, Army Corps.). Each of the three plans was prepared by a different design firm.
Most applicants have elected not to use this process. During the same six month period, staff completed the following reviews in addition to the three plans submitted under the pilot program:
It is staff’s observation that the plans under this pilot program have far better quality than those not under the program. This is due largely to the detailed checklist and certification, which was designed to encourage plans to be completed and receive a thorough quality control review by the plan preparer before submission. Comments on the program have been received from the development community. The comments have been in the form of letters, e-mails and discussions,
many of which have been posted on the web site forum (http://exprevprocess.blogspot.com/ ). Responses have been
overwhelmingly positive from the three firms who have used the program. They cited the following positive aspects:
Some concerns raised by the three firms who used the pilot program were:
For those designers who have not used the process, the following reasons have been given:
One of the more significant findings of this pilot program has been the verification that designers in the community rely on County staff to provide quality control for plan work, as noted above. It appears that plan preparers may be averse to trying the process because of additional up-front design costs that clients are not willing to pay, an ongoing reliance on County staff for quality control of their plans, and some simply taking a “wait and see” attitude to the new process. Staff notes the relatively small number of applicants using this process while many applicants complain about delays appears a contradiction. Based on conversations with plan preparers, staff believes there may be an issue with developers distinguishing between immediate time and time to plan approval. Plan preparers are often under intense pressure to finish designs and to submit plans to the County. By submitting a 50% or 75% plan (staff often sees plans stamped to this effect), the immediate pressure is lifted from the plan preparer. In effect, the plan preparer is counting on the time County staff takes to review a first submission of the plan and comment to finish their work with the rest of the plan. This practice does not work for the alternative program, which requires a completed plan that has received a thorough quality control review before submission. At this point, staff can offer no evidence on why more plans are not using this process, but notes the following as possibilities:
The board raised concerns in its previous discussions about compliance with regulations during inspection and construction in addition to design. Given this program has only been in effect for six months, we do not have any projects far enough along in the process to assess construction issues. Anecdotally, staff believes the projects that have been approved under this process may prove to have far fewer construction related issues because of the detail of care required in preparing the plan.
None estimated. While this process reduces review times, it is noted that the County has not charged separate fees for engineering reviews. Thus, while it may cost the County more to have a plan receive three or four reviews, no additional fee is paid by the applicant for those reviews. Whether additional fees should be charged will be discussed as part of a comprehensive study of development fees anticipated to come to before the Board in July.
This is an informational update and no action is needed. The next update will be provided in November.
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