My wish for the holidays: development review filings online
One of the most important and contentions issues in any community is new development. ANCs spend a great deal of time discussing development proposals. We discuss them extensively, along with the zoning and historic preservation implications, on Greater Greater Washington. Several key boards make the big decisions in the District of Columbia. Yet it's still extremely difficult to get a look at the materials these boards review to make their decisions.
The Zoning Commission and the Board of Zoning Adjustment make zoning policy in DC. The Zoning Commission reviews Planned Unit Developments (PUDs), along with zoing regulation changes, while the BZA reviews every request for a zoning variance. Anyone seeking a PUD or variance files plans with the Office of Zoning, which are public. But to see them, you have to go in person to 441 4th St and pay to photocopy the materials.
In addition to the developer's filings, the Office of Zoning gathers written testimony from the Office of Planning, DDOT, the fire marshal, MPD, the Department of the Environment, ANCs, civic groups, and individuals. The Officce of Planning does a good jbo putting most of their reports online after they send them to the Office of Zoning, but few others do. That means that unless someone is willing to trek downtown every few days to look for new filings, they have to ask the ANCs, DDOT, etc. for their letters individually.
This is silly. The Office of Zoning already makes lots of copies of everything to send to the developer, ANC, OP, DDOT, and the other agencies. They could instead simply scan everything to a Web site that organizes all filings by case, and then email notifications to the agencies and ANCs. The site could even let individuals sign up for notifications of individual projects, or any projects in an ANC, Ward, or citywide. This would save paper, staff time photocopying and mailing, and most of all, enable residents to know what's happening around the city and more easily participate in the process.
The Historic Preservation Review Board likewise has enormous influence over dedvelopment, but seeing the materials they use in their decision requires a trip to the Historic Preservation Office. They do post staff reports a few days to a week before each hearing, but by then most of the deecisions were already made; for historic review, a proposal often goes to HPO staff months before HPRB will see it, wherein staff negotiate with the developer to improve the project. Meanwhile, the rest of us have little opportunity to see what's been proposed and make comments. Nor are landmark applications posted online.
Finally, there's the Public Space Committee, which is least transparent of the four. Their Web "site" doesn't even list the members of the committee, nor the agendas for meetings, nor the decisions made. Members of the public can ask to join an email list where agendas and decisions are posted, but I emailed the specified address (email@example.com) six weeks ago and never heard back. Folks within DDOT advised me to contact the specific staff member (firstname.lastname@example.org) individually. Unlike the Office of Zoning and HPRB, according to Felder, the Public Space applications, agency reports, and ANC letters aren't even open to the public to view on paper; one must file a FOIA request to see them.
Let's fix this. It's not hard. The Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) can create a system to hold all of these filings and provide notifications to agencies and individuals. The administration can instruct the Office of Zoning, HPO, and Public Space to put every incoming document into the appropriate case's folder. We can save staff time and photocopying expenses, and open up development plans and their review to citizens.
Here's a table of the boards and which information is currently available online. We can and should easily turn this entire table into 'Yes'es.
|Office of Zoning (ZC & BZA)||Historic Preservation||Public Space Committee|
|Submissions||PUDs (ZC): No|
Variances etc. (BZA): No
Landmark nominations: No
|ANC & individual comments||No||No||No*|
|Office of Planning comments||Usually posted by OP||N/A||No*|
|Other agency comments||No||N/A||No*|
|List of members||Yes||Yes||No|
|Meeting agendas||Yes||Yes||Email list only|
|Votes & orders||Yes||Yes||Email list only|
* These documents are not even available for in-person review but require a FOIA submission.
Update: Office of Zoning's Sara Bardin says:
The Office of Zoning is already in the process of creating the online system you refer to in your article. The Interactive Zoning Information System (IZIS) will allow the public to follow a case from filing to completion online. We will be holding focus groups to test the technology this year, and plan on releasing it in FY 2010.Hooray! I hope that OZ will build something that HPO and Public Space can also utilize for their components of the development review process.
- Metro bag searches aren't always optional
- Young kids try to assault me while biking
- Focus transportation on downtown or neighborhoods?
- Endless zoning update delay hurts homeowners
- Redeveloping McMillan is the only way to save it
- DDOT agrees to repave 15th Street cycle track
- Vienna Metro town center won't have a town center