New Report: Wide Range of Times to Get Development Projects Through County Review
The report examines the review and approval timeframes for preliminary plans, site plans and record plats for development projects in Montgomery County. The report found that certain projects that are required to go through all stages of the review process could take more than three years to gain approval. It also states that the median processing timeframes for new preliminary plans, new site plans and record plats exceed the limited timeframe guidelines or assumptions that exist in County law or are published in agency documents.
The OLO report responds to the County Council’s request for a better understanding of how long it takes to receive certain types of approvals and some of the factors that influence the predictability of the County’s land use processes.
OLO looked at 415 preliminary and site plan applications (both new applications and amendments to existing approvals) completed between fiscal year 2010 and mid-year fiscal year 2014. It also examined 284 record plats approved by the Planning Board and the Department of Permitting Services during fiscal year 2012 and fiscal year 2013 and subsequently recorded. Key findings from the report include:
- Median review and approval timeframes of approximately 15 months for a new preliminary plan; 12 months for a new site plan and 9-to-10 months for a record plat. Approvals for a project that requires all three reviews could take more than three years. Additionally, each review process has a large range of approval times, indicating a more variable and less predictable process. Approval timeframes ranged from 119 to 3,128 days for new preliminary plans; 151 to 3,128 days for new site plans; and 65 to 2,383 days for record plats.
- Median processing timeframes for new preliminary plans, new site plans and record plats exceed the limited timeframe guidelines or assumptions that exist in County law or are published in agency documents. However, total review time data combines active agency review time with applicant response time, indicating some shared accountability for review timeframes.
OLO also analyzed data to determine how much of the total review timeframe is attributable to agency staff compared how much is attributable to applicant response time. For new site plans, OLO found that approximately 71 percent of the time is for staff review and 29 percent for applicant response. For new preliminary plans, OLO found that approximately 44 percent of the time was for staff review time and 56 percent was due to applicant response time. An analysis of 19 record plat case studies indicates a high degree of variability within the amount of time the application is with reviewing agencies versus the applicant.
In the report, OLO recommended that the Council create an online system of benchmarks and processing time metrics to strengthen its oversight of regulatory land use approvals and shorten approval timeframes. Specific recommendations include:
- Establish pre-set development approval timeframes and targets for record plat, preliminary plan and site plan approval processes—including metrics for review cycles, phases, and periods within each process.
- Establish a data system that captures and reports accurate agency and applicant review times.
- Create a regular reporting structure to the Council and the public to enhance transparency of and accountability for the development review processing data.
- Request that DPS and the Planning Department jointly improve communication and information delivery processes for record plats, including a coordinated online presence.
The complete report is available at the OLO website.