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Streamlining the building process


A seven-hour seminar on new design rules for residential and commercial developments in Anne Arundel County may sound about as interesting as watching the grass grow. But those who skipped the recent article about the seminar in favor of juicier headlines should realize how profoundly and positively the proposed regulations could affect them.

Simply put, the changes being considered by the county's new Department of Planning and Code Enforcement could mean money in homebuyers' pockets and a more attractive county.

As it is, development projects are subject to a time-consuming review process that can drag for years while state and local agencies make competing and often contradictory demands.

The delays cost the county and developers money -- costs that are passed on to homebuyers and taxpayers.

Under the proposed rules, projects would be reviewed by all county and state agencies simultaneously. If one of them has a problem, the other agencies know from the start, instead of at the end of the process.

Planners estimate the review time for smaller projects could be cut 25 percent, from two years to 18 months, while larger projects, which can take up to three years to review, could be completed in half that span.

Reforms that would hold developers to higher environmental standards doubtless will meet with opposition from some of them. But residents should encourage the County Council -- which has the final say -- to approve them.

Changes such as requiring landscaped "islands" in parking lots hTC are a sensible approach to protecting the landscape from being obliterated by asphalt.

These reforms will require plenty of fine-tuning before a final draft goes to the council this fall. But there is still time to examine the fine points.

For example: Is a $400 increase for the penalty against small residential developers who don't provide enough recreation space too steep? Is one island for every 10 parking spaces too many? Planners, builders and citizens can debate these questions the rest of the summer.

On the whole, however, the proposed overhaul makes the process less complicated, more flexible for builders, kinder to the environment and quicker. Every county resident has a stake in seeing such changes become law.

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