Three Ways the County Can Speed Up Approvals on Development Projects

Three Ways the County Can Speed Up Approvals on Development Projects

A new study found it takes an average of 15 months to approve a preliminary plan and 12 months for a site plan.

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Montgomery County Planning Department's Facebook Page

When the county took a hard look at its approval process for development projects, it found something local developers already know—the process takes a long time.

A new report released last week by the Montgomery County Council’s Office of Legislative Oversight shows that preliminary and site plan approval take, on average, more than two years to complete. Developers must go through multiple steps to have both plans approved before construction on a project can begin.

Taking time to review these projects ensures that the community and local stakeholders can participate in the outcome, but it also can result in funding being pulled from a project or developers losing their motivation to keep the process moving forward. Representatives of the development and construction community who were interviewed for the report pointed to a lack of set time frames and hesitation by officials to address difficult issues because county agencies “are wary of making a ‘wrong’ decision” as reasons why the process takes so long.

The study also examined neighboring jurisdictions and found that Fairfax County takes about four to five months to review site and subdivision plans, while Frederick County uses a three-month schedule to review and approve preliminary and site plans.

Also identified in the report were three ways to speed up the preliminary and site plan review process:

  • Impose a stringent development review time frame to provide applicants with greater certainty about when decisions will be made
  • Establish and publicize a data system to report on whether time frame targets are being adhered to
  • Have the County Council review approval timelines every six months to provide oversight

The issues highlighted in the report are not new, according to a letter from Rose Krasnow, the deputy director of the Montgomery County Planning Department. In the letter, which was published as part of the report, Krasnow wrote that the new ePlans electronic submission process allows county officials to see comments on plans by other agencies and provides developers “with a single, consolidated list of comments…instead of receiving comments piecemeal from each agency.” Coordinating and receiving responses from each agency involved in the process, such as the department of transportation or the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, was identified in the report as a significant delaying factor in the length of approval times.

Krasnow also wrote that the department plans to publish a schedule in 2015 that “will specify the dates that need to be met for each step in the process, from initial acceptance of an application to the Planning Board hearing date.”

“Our director, Gwen Wright, has made streamlining the review process one of her top priorities for [the next year],” Krasnow wrote.

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