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August 09, 2008

County staff detail upcoming changes to development review process

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In early 2006, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors created a task force  to consider process improvements for rezonings and special use permits. One key recommendation of the Development Review Process Task Force was that information be made available to the public in a timely, efficient manner. To do so, staff made administrative changes to the schedule, slightly altering the way in which a project would proceed from application to the County Planning Commission.

Now, staff is implementing a second round of changes including the following:

  • Public hearing dates before the Board of Supervisors will be established only after developers have submitted all changes for review
  • Once an applicant accepts a public hearing date, no other changes can be made to the application
  • Work sessions required for complex projects will be scheduled for the soonest available meeting after Planning Commission action. The Board will see only the documents provided to the Planning Commission, rather than amended ones that have not received review from staff

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The changes were listed on the consent agenda for the Board’s August 6, 2008 meeting as an information item. Board approval is not required. However, Supervisor Sally Thomas (Samuel Miller) pulled the item for discussion out of a concern that Board work session’s would not feature public comment, and that the Board would not benefit from the public’s input at that stage.

Senior Planner Elaine Echols said the changes are designed to give the applicant more time to revise a project after the Commission provides its input, but before a final public hearing. She pointed to the example of the Berkmar Business Park, which was deferred on July 2, 2008, by the applicant after a two and half hour public hearing. That project will be resubmitted after a new proffer statement is made, and a second public hearing will have to be scheduled.

Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) said these changes would give the Board a chance to give more direction to the applicant before  they officially weigh in at a public hearing. Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) said these changes would let the public know what to expect. The Board stated at the beginning of the Berkmar public hearing in July that they were not going to take action. Rooker did say that the applicant should be able to slightly adjust the application between the Planning Commission public hearing and the Board work session. Echols said the staff doesn’t want to have to produce a second staff report, and that the applicant would address the Planning Commission’s direction in their presentation to the Board.

Echols also wanted to know if the Board would take public comment at its work sessions. The Planning Commission, under Chairman Cal Morris (Rivanna) generally does take public comment, a tradition started under the previous Chair, Marcia Joseph (At-Large). Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier (Scottsville) said he thought the Board should always do so. Chairman Ken Boyd (Rivanna) said he decides whether to do so on a case-by-case basis. Rooker agreed, and said that if the Board had taken public comment during a recent work session on land use taxation reform, the meeting would have taken too long. Sally Thomas argued for asking for public comment during a work session on development issues, because that way citizens can comment on an applicant’s proffers.

“The applicant can’t change a proffer after the public hearing has started, so getting public comment before that point is reached can be beneficial all around,” Thomas said.

Slutzky said the public should be encouraged to send written correspondence to the Board in advance of work sessions, and that they should be reminded that the general policy of the Board is to not accept public comment during the session.

Staff will now schedule a roundtable meeting with the development community to explain what the changes mean. A similar roundtable meeting was held for the first set of changes in February.

Sean Tubbs

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