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  Development Review Process Workshop Rescheduled
January 16, 2005

The Development Review Workshop (See TOM BUTT E-FORUM Changing the Development Review Process, January 2, 2005) previously scheduled for January 22, 9:00 AM in the City Council Chamber, has been rescheduled for the same time and place on January 29. The proposals by the Planning Department are being seen by potential applicants as a long-overdue reduction in unnecessary red tape and by some community leaders as a sinister plot to strip neighborhoods of the opportunity for public scrutiny of building projects.


Following publication of the January 2 E-FORUM referenced above, one friend responded with the following:


Give me a break about the people who are giving input, being only ones who are applicants.  Of course they are.  The general public cares less about the process, they just want what they want.  As you know, the general public only shows up to complain about a development.  The people who apply are the ones who have to put up with the system.


Many nights I have sat in design review when a member of the public came in to get a review of his adding a garage, second story or the like.  These are the applicants who matter as it is their only experience with the system.  The Design Review Board was absolutely horrible for these folks to experience. Almost everyone that I saw walked away in utter disgust, not realizing what was happening to them.


You and I as professionals are paid to beat our way through the process, the guy on the street who is trying to do some small little project has no idea what to do.  Your Design Review Board for these people is like hell. They talk in professional jargon that means nothing to them. You are gaining enemies, one by one, on these small projects. In additions it is a total waste of good staff's time. Do everyone a favor and make these administrative hearings in front of staff person.  We do is at the county and it works well. Staff generally bends over backwards to make sure the applicants, opponents and observers understand the process and feel as good as possible with it.


As you know, I have been on all sides of this for many years.  You guys in Richmond tend to complicate things beyond imagination. That's why you end up in a pickle jar.


And Planning Director Barry Cromartie, who was sent a copy of the response, agreed:


Thank you for your honest and keen insight into how the process really works in Richmond.


The process has been broken in the City for a long time.


 As evidenced by the general lack of attendance at our monthly development review retreat meetings, the City is unable to build political consensus necessary to create clear policies to correct identified problems.


On the other hand, staff is not empowered to make necessary administrative and procedure changes to fear of being slandered and attacked in e-forums. Thus no positive changes can be made and problems continue.


What other Cities do very successfully, which unfortunately Richmond refuses to grasp, is to develop and convert political consensus into clear policies and procedures which should then be used as a  filter to  permit high quality development and screen out poor development. Instead, staff gets blamed for the chaos in which they must work.


It's kind of like blaming the fish for polluting the river in which he swims...Doesn't make much sense, does it?


It is easy to blame staff when you don't look at problems objectively and analytically.


I hope you invite other concerned parties to give input at the January 22, 2005 retreat at 9 am in the City Council Chambers.


So, whether you think public input for proposed construction projects is a community right, or whether you believe it is an unnecessary evil, you should consider attending to share your views.