Land Development - New Project Management Program


 

New Project Management Program Improves Land Development Review Process

 

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The Project Management Team, from left to right: Ellen Eggerton, Helman Castro, William Marsh, Jeff Vish, and Kirsten Munz. (Not pictured: Ken Williams.)

Our goal is to attract projects to the county that grow and diversify the economy, strengthen communities, and improve our quality of life. As a partner with industry, we listened to land developers describe the challenges they face, from planning and designing projects in an urbanized environment to meeting complex regulations.  Their biggest concern is moving projects from planning to occupancy as quickly as possible. We looked at our processes and made changes to improve the experience for everyone involved. 

The Booster Shot, approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in December 2014, allowed us to raise fees to hire more review staff. We studied our process and considered recommendations on how to make it faster, more consistent, and more predictable (Goal 3 of our Economic Success Strategic Plan). We listened to staff from all the land development review agencies and industry, studied successful models in other jurisdictions, and committed to making changes where needed.

 

New Project Management Team

One of the recommendations was to expand project management capabilities and philosophy. Helman Castro was hired as the director of operations for Land Development Services and tasked with leading a new project management team. Castro is a past president of the Fairfax County Chapter of the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association and has more than 30 years of private sector consulting experience.

The project management team manages projects in Tysons, Reston, commercial revitalization districts, and projects for nonprofits and faith-based organizations. William Marsh is the Tysons Urban Center Coordinator. He has a background in civil engineering and has been with Fairfax County since 2012. Jeff Vish is the Commercial Revitalization District Coordinator. He has a civil engineering degree and worked in the private sector as a consultant and as a land development/engineering manager in the homebuilding industry before coming to work for the county in 2008. Kirsten Munz is the Reston Urban Area Coordinator. She has 20 years of experience in planning, engineering, and project management and has been with the county since June 2014. Ken Williams works primarily on troubleshooting site-related issues. He has more than 30 years of land development experience, mostly in Fairfax County. Ellen Eggerton is the Ombudsman for Religious and Non-Profit Community Groups and Green Buildings.

Projects are managed in the program in two ways: cradle-to-grave and troubleshooting. Under the cradle-to-grave model, dedicated staff members are assigned to shepherd projects from inception through construction to bond release. The project manager helps process applications, provides support, and offers creative solutions to challenges.

The second model deploys project managers as troubleshooters. They coordinate communications and marshal cross-agency resources to help prevent unanticipated project delays. A recent example of the troubleshooting model is a condominium building that suffered a structure failure that displaced residents. Project manager Kirsten Munz was assigned to work with our land development review agencies, the district supervisor’s office, and the property owner and its engineering firm. She helped take the stalled project and guided it to a successful resolution.

Project managers provide a common thread throughout the development process and help ensure stakeholders’ (including the community) needs and expectations are met. By participating in each phase of land development review (legislative process or zoning, site review, building review, permits, construction, occupancy, and bond release), the experience can be seamless and projects remain on schedule.

 

Fairfax County Development Services agencies
Project managers coordinate with all the agencies involved in land development and review.


The new project management program relies heavily on mutual cooperation among internal development review agencies and the applicant. We are making strides toward providing superior customer service, but industry must also do its part by submitting well-prepared plans that meet quality control standards. Together with industry partners, project managers are collaborating with all agencies involved in the development process to move projects through the system as efficiently as possible without sacrificing quality.

 

Two Successfully Managed Projects

Jeff Vish, a project manager in Land Development Services, says individual agencies are responsible for all the issues and complexities of their own review. They can’t always focus on details that may benefit subsequent components of the process.  “I think the main service I offer is seeing the entire land development process as a whole and thinking several moves ahead to gain efficiency,” he said. Early on in the process, Vish discusses the project with the applicant and staff from different agencies to identify and account for all potential issues. He then creates a comprehensive schedule to follow. This strategy is working well for one of his accounts, CoreSite, a company that builds and operates datacenters for internet firms such as Amazon, Google, and Netflix.

CoreSite data center layout
CoreSite's datacenter will create jobs and diversify the local economy.

CoreSite Vice President and Eastern Region General Manager Juan Font said, “The entire team at CoreSite can attest that it has been a night and day shift in the level of responsiveness and customer-oriented support since the project management program was launched. We are honored to participate in this program and we are a living testament that the program really delivers a degree of responsiveness, ownership, accountability, and can-do attitude that we had never experienced with the county before.”

Last year, CoreSite acquired a 22-acre office park in Reston with the intention of developing 600,000 square feet of datacenter space. Vish says from a regulatory standpoint the concept of datacenters is relatively new in Fairfax County. “With the current project, we are trying to utilize lessons learned and view the process as a whole, rather than its individual components,” he said. The by-right project is currently in the site plan and building review phase of the process, and Vish maintains regular contact with the reviewing agencies.

At the outset of a new project, project managers develop a work plan with the applicant that is mutually agreed upon. The work plan consists of:

  • Defining the project scope;
  • Identifying project requirements;
  • Establishing quality control/quality assurance;
  • Defining project deliverables;
  • Creating a project schedule;
  • Identifying project risks, and;
  • Creating a communications plan.

Effective communication is key to the success of project management, and communicating early and often with all stakeholders is necessary. Project managers identify risks early in the process to reduce the number of critical issues that could arise later. This results in a more predictable process.

Vish is managing a project to bring new townhomes and condominiums to Arrowbrook Centre, a mixed-use development in Herndon. The rezoning case was already well underway when he was assigned the project. “My main focus was assisting the zoning staff coordinator in identifying potential design issues that could arise during the site plan and permitting phases, primarily related to stormwater management and proffers,” he explains.

Pennoni Associate Vice President David Steigler, the project’s engineering consultant, says the benefits of the project management program for Arrowbrook Centre have been immense. He estimates that more than a third of the standard review time was saved, and he credits the “aggressive but credible” schedule for keeping expectations in perspective throughout the project. “I noticed that those involved in the pilot program were engaged and dedicated to meet its goals.  It was thrilling to see it created a real spark in people,” Steigler says. “I can honestly say that the experience resulted in strengthened relationships and a high degree of gratification.”

To save time, in-depth preliminary engineering was completed at the same time that the staff report for the zoning application was being drafted. This can be risky, but Vish says it is a testament to the high level of confidence in the work that was done during the review of the zoning application. “Fortunately, the extra work on the part of staff and the applicant’s consultant resulted in a very high-quality first submission plan, and there were very few comments generated,” he said.

The site plan has been approved and Vish continues to check in with Pennoni and staff to make sure the bond process is moving forward smoothly. Steigler adds, “I look forward to more opportunities to participate in this program!”

 

Lessons Learned

As the project management program evolves, we will continue to refine and improve the program. Project managers are learning lesson from each project and applying them to benefit future participants.

  • Applicants who commit to intensive preliminary engineering design in their first site plan submission experience fewer comments and a shorter review time.
  • The program is most successful when there is a cooperative relationship between the applicant and staff.
  • Providing a concept plan in advance of the kickoff meeting gives staff an opportunity recommend strategies to accelerate the process.
  • Kickoff meetings are only effective if attended by all stakeholders.
  • Applicants should be made aware of the differences in building permitting routes and the implications each will have on ultimate occupancy.
  • Applicants should work with staff to ensure underlying building permits are compatible with the tenant fit out permits being sought.
  • Applicants are urged to begin the process of obtaining land right as early as possible.
  • Project managers check in with the applicant frequently on the status of land rights (e.g. easements), to ensure progress is being made.

Fairfax County has always been a desirable destination for land developers. The county is located near the nation’s capital, is served by two airports, has a first-class public school system, an educated workforce, and an abundance of natural and cultural resources. The project management program will ensure that the county continues to attract development that benefits its citizenry.

To have a project considered by the Project Management Team, email Helman Castro.

 

 


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