Fairfax Speeds Up Its Development Reviews with Paperless Zoning Applications


Nov. 12, 2015

News Highlights

  • To speed up development reviews, Fairfax is moving towards paperless zoning applications and reviews.
  • New e-Plans pilot project was created in consultation with the development industry, and it's anticpated the new online system will speed up the acceptance of zoning applications.
  • As part of its Economic Success plan, the county is improving the speed, consistentcy and predictability of its land development review process, and e-Plans is one intiative in this effort. Beyond e-Plans, the county has already cut the time it takes to review zoning applications for accpetance—from an average of 75 days to 44 during this past fiscal year.

In a bid to get new developments built sooner, Fairfax County is taking the first step to going paperless.

Under a new pilot, developers can submit their zoning proposals online for major projects, like rezonings. Called e-Plans Fairfax County, planners expect this new, online system will cut the time it takes to get applications officially accepted for review. This pilot will digitize this important first step in the overall review process.

Fairfax is testing out this new system as part of a broader strategy to rev up its economy. As part of its Economic Success plan, the county is improving the speed, consistency and predictability of its development review process.

“I give the county tremendous credit for listening to our collective industry,” said Greg Riegle, partner at McGuire Woods, a law firm that represents many developers.“Our clients put a premium on efficiency and time in this process, and frankly, the e-Plans system and arrangement is going to add tremendous efficiency and save time. And, we’re really excited about it.”

While it’s too early to know what the time savings may be, e-Plans helps address some of the biggest lags in a paper-based process.

Planners spend time hand checking each application to see if the required documents are included. When paperwork is missing—about 20 percent of cases say officials, time is lost tracking down it, as well as rechecking the new submissions. Accounting for these delays, a work week can easily go by.

“The old way is a lot of paper,” said Bob Cohrane, Vice President and Director Planning for Vika Virginia, an engineering firm. “We print out full-size sets of plans, and we make a ton of copies.”

Plans can easily run up to 140 pages, Cohrane said. Because the county requires 23 copies, this means up to 3,000 pages have to be turned in.

e-Plans will eliminate these costs and increase the speed for development teams.

If the right documents haven’t been uploaded or more details are required, county staff will be able let developers know quickly and easily through the system. Their comments will be entered electronically, and developers will be able to see this feedback online. They can then resubmit anything needed online 24/7.

Beyond e-Plans, the county has already cut the time it takes to review zoning applications for accpetance—from an average of 75 days to 44 during this past fiscal year.

While the pilot’s focus now is on getting zoning proposals submitted online, planners are already working on the next test for the system. The goal is to implement the system in other areas of the land development process, including post zoning application acceptance and to distribute materials to other agencies so they can review and comment on the substance of the proposals electronically.

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