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  Design Review Board Shrinks to Critical Size
September 14, 2004

With the recent resignation of Architect Charles Duncan, the Design Review Board, authorized with a membership of seven, shrinks to five. The Design Review Board and its mission are described in Richmond Municipal Code 15.04.930 (http://bpc.iserver.net/codes/richmond/index.htm).


Duncan has served several years on the Board, most recently as its chair. As an architect with special expertise in historic preservation, he brought valuable experience that does not exist even within the City’s Planning staff. His service is much appreciated, and he will be missed.


Duncan’s resignation, however, points up a deeper problem that needs to be aired. There are now two vacancies on the Board, the other having been left unfilled by the Mayor for several months. There is a move afoot, led by some City staff members and perhaps some City Council members, to abolish the Design Review Board or merge it into the Planning Commission. The motive, it seems, is to make it easier and quicker for projects to get approved. Some see design review as an impediment to development in Richmond.


Neither Planning Commission members nor Design Review Board members believe merger is a good idea. These unpaid volunteers simply don’t have the time to adequately process the level of work that merger would bring.


Another proposal is to expand the types and scope of projects exempt from Design Review. Any design review performed on these projects would be done by Planning staff without the opportunity for the type of public participation to which citizens have become accustomed.


The Planning Department believes that design review slows down the project approval process. My observation, however, is that most delays, if they happen, occur within the part of processing that is the responsibility of Planning staff.


In any event, a Design Review Board that does not have enough members to constitute a quorum will certainly slow things down.


We need your help to identify potential Design Review Board applicants. The requirements are as follows:


“Membership. The DRB shall consist of seven (7) persons who live or work in the City of Richmond. At least five (5) of the members shall be persons who reside in the City of Richmond. Membership of the board shall consist of 1 architect, 2 lay persons, 1 person from the business community, 1 landscape architect or expert in a wide range of design/construction fields, the remainder (2 positions) shall be persons who are qualified to analyze and interpret architectural and design plans.”


Design professionals on the Design Review Board are especially valuable because they have the experience to critically evaluate claims by applicants that certain design changes are technically difficult or cost too much, a common subject of discussion. The Design Review Board has often been helpful to applicants, suggesting things that make their projects look and work better – and sometimes saving money in the process.


Applications can be obtained from the City Clerk (510/620-6513 or email diane_holmes@ci.richmond.ca.us). Once turned in, applications are forwarded to the Mayor, who proposes individuals to the City Council for approval.


Even if you are not interested in serving on the Design Review Board, you may want to contact the Mayor (510/620-6503, email irma_anderson@ci.richmond.ca.us) and urge her to fill the vacant positions as soon as possible.


DRB res Letter.doc