First Electronic Zoning Application Fuels Fairfax’s Need for Speed in Approving New Developments


Feb. 5, 2016

News Highlights

  • First development proposal accepted through Fairfax's new electronic zoning application submisison system, and planners say this first case shows the system offers even greater speeds than anticipated.
  • Novus Propety Holdings' proposal calls for a 340-unit apartment building along Richmond Highway, about two miles from the Huntington Metro Station. The project can help revitalize the corridor, bringing much needed housing. The building also will replace a car-title lending business at the site now.
  • 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. The plan also calls for creating more urban, mixed use developoments near transit..

Fairfax County’s new electronic zoning application submission system is already exceeding expectations for staff review speed, say planners who announced that the first application has been submitted and accepted using the new system.

Novus Property Holdings was the first developer to complete the applications acceptance process electronically under the county’s new pilot system called e-Plans. The developer proposes to rezone a 5.3 acre site to build a new apartment building in the Penn Daw area along Richmond Highway.

Fairfax planners were able to respond to their proposal with deficiency comments within four days of its submission, moving even faster than anticipated using the new e-Plans system. The county’s current goal is to issue an acceptance determination on zoning applications within 10 business days or send comments back to developers outlining the missing requirements from proposals within this timeframe.

While it will take more use to know how much the system will speed up acceptances ultimately, officials are strongly encouraged by this first case.

“After working with Fairfax County for nearly a decade and submitting hundreds of plans through the paper process, Bohler’s Development Services Group has found the new e-Plans system to be not only intuitive and easy to use, but extremely efficient,” said Brian Clifford, a planning manager with the firm that’s on the Novus development team. “Having the ability to upload plans and review staff responses electronically has streamlined the submission and acceptance.”

e-Plans allows the county to ditch the inefficiencies—for both developers and planners—resulting from paper-based submissions for major zoning proposals. Fairfax is testing out this new system as part of a broader strategy to rev up its economy.Through its Strategic Plan for Economic Success, the county is actively improving the speed, consistency and predictability of its development review process.

“E-Plans dramatically cut staff review time and sped up the application acceptance process thereby allowing us to move forward to the public hearing process in a much shorter time frame,” said Sara V. Mariska, an attorney with Walsh Colucci Lubeley & Walsh PC which is on the Novus team. “The online application reduces the amount of paper typically needed for a submission and allowed us to meet our deadline and exceed our client’s expectations.”

e-Plans helps address some of the biggest lags in a paper-based process – document delivery, reconciliation and routing.

The paper-based submission and review process that has remained unchanged for decades requires review staff to spend time hand checking each hand delivered application to see if the required documents are included. When paperwork is missing—about 20 percent of cases say officials, time is lost obtaining and correlating documents. e-Plans has the capability to  eliminate this delay because documents are tracked within the system which more clearly focuses the developer and staff on the applicable regulations. Not only can developers more clearly identify submission requirements, but also developers can upload revisions to their applications 24/7. Staff are currently working to familiarize internal review staff with electronic review capabilities of e-Plan with a goal of significantly reducing the requirement to submit 23 paper copies of plan sets for the initial review of zoning applications.

If ultimately approved, Novus’ project will help to revitalize the Richmond Highway corridor, replacing a car title lender at the proposed site along Richmond Highway and Fairview Drive. It also supports the county’s Economic Success initiative that calls for the creation of livable, walkable mixed-use activity centers that are aligned with multi-modal transportation infrastructure.The proposed multi-family apartment community will diversify the area with residences within about two miles from the Huntington Metro Station.

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