Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and Montgomery County Planning Board Chairman Derick Berlage today announced a freeze on the issuance of building permits in site plan zones until height limitation and setback requirements can be verified on a host of outstanding development projects. Duncan and Berlage also announced a plan to improve the site plan review and inspection process to ensure that developers are complying with site plan agreements in so-called optional method zones in the County. This improved accountability plan will require the hiring of additional zoning enforcement staff, paid for through a hike in developer permit application fees.
“The revelation that developers in Clarksburg violated height and setback restrictions was a serious abuse of the public trust, one that highlights some shortcomings in the current development review process,” said Duncan. “The steps we are taking will address these shortcomings and ensure that developers are complying with zoning restrictions.”
Currently, more than 190 building permit applications are pending with the Department of Permitting Services (DPS). Applicants are being notified that their permits will not be issued until they resubmit site plans that disclose height and setback calculations. Before issuing permits, DPS and Park and Planning will verify setback and height restrictions spelled out in the site plan approvals.
Beginning immediately, developers will be required to provide, as part of their permit application to DPS, clear evidence of compliance with height restrictions on any site plan approved by the Planning Board. Planning Board staff will review the evidence of height and setback compliance on site plans as part of the agency’s development review process.
“We’re taking initial steps that we know will make a huge difference,” said Berlage. “The goal is to put better systems in place to ensure developers comply with every letter of the law and our strict land use regulations.”
Additional enforcement staff will be needed in DPS and Park and Planning to take on this increased oversight responsibility. Duncan said that the additional staff will be paid for by developers through an increase in permit fees.
“Increasing zoning enforcement staff is necessary, but should not come at the expense of taxpayers – it should be paid for by the developers who benefit most from these development projects,” said Duncan.
Earlier this month, the Planning Board ruled that developers and builders constructed 433 townhouses too tall and 102 too close to streets. On July 28, the Board will consider sanctions against the builders and developers responsible for violating approved plans for the town center.
“We’re taking a collaborative approach even before the Office of Legislative Oversight begins its review because these interim changes can certainly help in the meantime,” said Berlage.
Park and Planning Director Charles Loehr also announced that he ended an internal practice that allowed mid-level planning staff to approve select administrative amendments to site plans. Now, only Loehr himself will issue such approvals.
The Planning Board and DPS will cooperate fully with OLO’s review of the development issues related to Clarksburg Town Center. In addition, the Planning Board will issue a request for proposals to management consulting firms who specialize in process reviews.
The Board will seek an independent, outside review of its development review division. “The OLO review will be very helpful, but we know there will be an additional need to take a broader look at our internal processes,” said Berlage. “We want to be ready to start that work just as soon as OLO has completed its work.”