Dividing Development Review Process Causes Qualms

Many Builders Prefer Dealing With Single Agency, Which Shake-up Kills

June 16, 1991|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

Largely in response to developers' complaints that the system was slow, unresponsive and cumbersome, the past Board of County Commissioners consolidated the development review process and hired an experienced director to make it work.

Several prominent Carroll developers and others whose livelihood depend on the system say they have noticed marked improvements since J. Michael Evans took charge of the then-new Department of Permits and Regulations about three years ago.

Under a government reorganization plan, the new Board of Commissioners has proposed going back to the pre-Evans days by splitting development review into several departments, which developers say could nullify progress and re-create old problems.

Unless changes are made to the plan by July 1, subdivision plan review, engineering review -- primarily for roads -- and landscape plan review will be in separate departments. They are all under Evans' purview currently. Also, storm water management and sediment control, which now make up one bureau in a different department, will be split.

Martin K. P. Hill, a developer who has worked with the county on numerous projects, said he is most concerned about returning some development review responsibilities to the Department of Public Works.

"There was a lot of interest in the development community in seeing that moved under Permitsand Regulations when it was done," said Hill, president of Masonry Contractors Inc. in Manchester. "We were starting to see real improvement in that area. I'm concerned it will regress."

Michael Maholchic, president of the Carroll chapter of the Home Builders Association of Maryland, said he doesn't see how the change will improve efficiency, the reason the commissioners have offered for restructuring.

"Whenever you have two different departments working on plans, it's like having two chefs making the same soup or two carpenters making thesame picnic table. You never can get both in agreement," he said.

Developers and surveyors said Evans' agency made reviewing plans a higher priority than it had been in Public Works, which focused primarily on maintaining and building public projects.

"There seems to be more concern for processing things in timely fashion in Permits andRegulations," Hill said. "The attitude before was: 'We'll get to it when we get to it.' "

Before the change several years ago, it was common for plans to lay unexamined on a shelf for four or five months, forcing a project to be stalled, said Richard Hull, senior vice president of KCI Technologies Inc. of Westminster (formerly Kidde Consultants), which develops site plans.

Commissioner President Donald I. Dell said part of the system was sent back to Public Works because it seems more "natural" to review road plans in the same department where the engineering work is done. It also will help relieve an already heavy workload in General Services, the new department headed by Evans, he said.

Dell and Commissioner Julia W. Gouge met with a small group of builders, engineers and surveyors Monday to discuss the plan. Acknowledging that the commissioners are not in agreement on theissue, he said the board will discuss altering the plan before it becomes effective July 1.

"I'll certainly give consideration to the points they made," Dell said. "My bottom line is to work toward efficiency. I haven't changed my mind, but I'm not so locked in that I won't."

Gouge, the only holdover from the previous Board of Commissioners, expressed reservations about splitting up the development review process immediately after the plan was announced May 10.

Steve Ford, the county's development review supervisor, said the changes could make communication among staff more difficult and could lengthen the review process. Time lost means higher costs to a developer, whichwill be passed on to the homebuyer or other end user, Hull said.

A county employee familiar with the review process said Dell has appeared particularly interested in that aspect of government.

"Dell is sticking his nose in a lot of issues that are development-related,"said the employee, who wished to remain anonymous. "He's to the point where he's trying to micromanage every department that deals with development issues."

Dell said he is trying to gain a better understanding of development issues, the associated planning and how the process works.

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