As Joanna has talked with many hundreds of people throughout the county over the past several years, the one issue that has been raised more frequently than any other is frustration with the county's land use development review departments. While the details of each story vary, the tremendous anger expressed by homeowners, community association leaders and developers alike make it clear that the county's development review process is dysfunctional. An unpredictable approval process where decisions often stretch out for years has even led some businesses to refuse to do any further work in the county.
Joanna will use her experience restructuring organizations to work with county employees to create a predictable, fair and rapid decision-making process. This is not rocket science. Other jurisdictions have figured out how to issue permits within reasonable timeframes, and we will model our processes on what works elsewhere. For example, Stamford, Connecticut is able to move projects through quickly by having all key players (i.e., city employees, engineers, and developers) meet at the beginning of a project and agree upon how best to resolve key issues.
There is no reason Anne Arundel County's Planning and Zoning, Inspections and Permits, and Public Works Departments cannot become similarly efficient. By the end of her first year in office, Joanna plans to have led employees in these departments through projects to redesign their processes so they can deliver final decisions far more quickly. Simple projects, such as for fences or sheds, should be approved within 24 hours, with more complex projects (such as subdivision plans) taking no more than six months.
Speeding up the decision-making process will require several changes:
All pertinent issues at each approval stage will be required to be identified in the first set of comments. Once plans have been revised to appropriately address these comments, the project moves on to the next approval stage. This will be a major improvement over the current process where applicants often must respond to second and third, often contradictory, sets of comments at each stage.
Binding decisions will be made throughout the approval process in the areas that make sense to be resolved at that stage. This replaces current practice where everything is subject to final inspection, and applicants can be told things like "the roof of your building is six feet too high" after the building is completed!
Processes that are working well in other jurisdictions will be considered for Anne Arundel County. For example, Prince George's County and several counties in Northern Virginia allow a developer to opt for Peer Review of their plans using a certified engineer from an approved list. In return for paying additional review fees, the developer gets a quicker response and the county's workload is reduced, potentially making it a win-win for all concerned.
By the end of Joanna's first term, her objective is for Anne Arundel County's land use review departments to be viewed as agencies where both the systems and the employees help applicants comply with all pertinent regulations quickly, fairly and as painlessly as possible.