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2/23/2007
Bob Weiner supports streamlining land use process to save time & money

Brandywine Community News 2/23/07

Land Use seeks to streamline process for subdivision approvals

By Jesse Chadderdon
Staff Reporter

New Castle County Land Use officials are pitching changes to the county council that they say would streamline the approval and review process of subdivision and land development plans.

According to the Department of Land Use, the average major land development plan takes 892 days to get through the county’s approval process. George Haggerty, the department’s assistant general manager, said that was too cumbersome a process for both developers and the department, and said a series of procedural changes could shorten that timeline by an estimated 4 to 6 months.

The department’s proposal would cut what is now a three-step process to two steps, by eliminating the filing and review of a preliminary plan and allowing traffic impact studies (TIS) to be completed later in the process, but before a final plan is recorded.

The Planning Board’s Technical Advisory Committee hearings would be replaced by a technical review by state agencies. Formal Planning Board hearings would continue to be required at the exploratory stage, with the hope that the developer considers requests from the board, the Land Use Department and the public when designing their final plans.

"We’ve tried to streamline the process a little bit and allow folks to move forward a bit faster," Haggerty said. "We’ve pushed the TIS requirement back, to allow the developer to move forward at their own pace, but the fact of the matter is you’re not going to get approved if that TIS isn’t done. We’re not changing anything the code requires, just when some of it has to happen."

Land Use General Manager Charles Baker said the department began working on these changes during last year’s Comprehensive Plan public forums, when the development community asked if there was anything the county could do to make the process more efficient.

Councilman Robert Weiner (R-Chatham) said the changes were long overdue and could help lower the price of homes.

"I think we should always be looking at revisiting the system to improve it," Weiner said. "If we make the system more efficient and less costly for the developer, those savings can be passed onto the end user – in many cases the homeowner."

Council President Paul Clark said he would like to hear more from the Department of Land Use about where things get delayed under the current system.

"We constantly hear from developers how restrictive our system is and that it takes too long, but I’d like to see more about where the problems are," he said. "If they’re missing deadlines and pushing things off, then we don’t necessarily have a problem because it’s not our fault."

Baker stressed that the proposed changes would not hinder public scrutiny of development plans. He said the state’s technical review, called a Preliminary Land Use Service review, are public, as are Planning Board hearings and council meetings where plans are ultimately voted on before going to the Recorder of Deeds. He said plans in need of special review would still be subject to public scrutiny at the Board of Adjustment or Historic Review Board.

"The most important public hearing in the process is the council hearing because it is a final opportunity for both council members and members of the public to raise issues regarding code compliance," Baker said.

Haggerty said the changes were meant to benefit all parties – the developer, the Department of Land Use and the homebuyer. He said the department would propose draft legislation to the council in the coming months.

"We’re only changing the timeline," he said. "At the end of the day it still comes down to ‘did they meet the code or didn’t they?’"

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