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NCPC plans to be more open

The National Capital Planning Commission is working on an Open Government Plan, to "increase transparency, public participation, and collaboration."

Photo by opensourceway on Flickr.

You can vote on their various ideas at an interactive site. Ideas include putting online more of the plans that are under review, live streaming meetings, creating an online platform for people to collaboratively suggest changes to plans, and using more social media.

NCPC is one of many boards in DC which review proposed projects. Each group has varying levels of openness for various elements of the process. I'd like to see all project review boards strive for a basic level of transparency for all of their decisions:

  • Post submissions soon after they are received, including images, maps, etc.
  • Post dates of meetings and meeting agendas
  • Post staff reports and recommendations
  • Post comments that have been received from government agencies and ANCs
  • Provide an online mechanism for people to submit comments
  • Post comments that have been received from individuals
  • Broadcast meetings via Web audio or video
  • Provide an online archive of prior meeting audio/video
  • List the body's vote and order quickly after the conclusion of the meeting

These are the boards that review projects and have some approval or disapproval power:

  • The Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) and Zoning Commission (ZC), both of which are managed by the Office of Zoning (OZ)
  • The Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB), for historic properties and districts
  • The Public Space Committee (PSC), for curb cuts, sidewalk cafes, and other items in public space
  • The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), for projects that touch on the federal interest
  • The Commission on Fine Arts (CFA), for Georgetown and projects abutting certain federal areas

How are these boards doing today?

Post submissions
Post agendas Email1
Post staff reports N/A2 N/A2
Post agency/ANC comments *
Receive emailed comments Unclear
Post individual comments
Stream audio/video
Archive audio/video
Post actions Email1 Very
1 The PSC has an email list people can subscribe to where they transmit meeting agendas and a very brief listing of the decision in each case.
2 The BZA, ZC, and PSC do not have staff reports on projects. However, the comments from individual government agencies like the Office of Planning and DDOT serve to fill a similar role.

When I last wrote about this a bit over 2 years ago, Sara Bardin from the Office of Zoning said they are working on a system to post BZA and ZC cases online, and would launch in FY2010, which ended last summer. Someone from OZ said they are still working on it and have it working internally, but it's not yet available for the public. I've emailed the project manager to find out more.

As for NCPC, you can vote on their open government ideas and submit your own until March 11.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


Add a comment »

Dear Mr. Alpert:

Thank you for your informative article. I would like to take this opportunity to update you on the Office of Zoning’s (OZ’s) progress on the Interactive Zoning Information System (IZIS).

At the end of FY 2010, OZ internally launched the Planned Unit Development (PUD) workflows for the case management system. Presently, we have 20 current cases uploaded into the system and are working to launch this case type to the public by the end of FY 2011. As we did with the launch of the Zoning Map, we will be conducting focus group testing prior to launch and would love to have you participate in the exercise.

OZ looks forward to shortly “checking off” the few remaining levels of transparency.


Sara Bardin
Special Assistant | Budget/Performance/Public Information/ANC Contact
Office of Zoning | District of Columbia Government
441 4th Street, NW | Suite 200-S | Washington, DC 20001
(202) 727-5372

by Sara Bardin on Jan 14, 2011 2:38 pm • linkreport

Great work, David.

This seems like an appropriate time to link to the D.C. Open Government Coalition.

by Gavin on Jan 14, 2011 3:13 pm • linkreport

Numbers? (how much would those things cost, and what's the size of the budgets for those agencies)?

by crin on Jan 15, 2011 9:29 am • linkreport

I'd like to vote on the NCPC ideas, but I would be forced to register on that site first. That's ridiculous and only serves to discourage public input. Quite ironic.

by Arnold on Jan 18, 2011 3:48 pm • linkreport

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