Supervisors Rodney Thomas and Ken Boyd (file photo)

The Albemarle Board of Supervisors deferred a vote Wednesday on proposed changes to the process by which by-right developments are approved after some of its members asked for more details on how they would be implemented.

“Our final site plan review process has always been a bit disjointed and frankly pretty complex for people to understand and this will make that much improved for everyone,” said Bill Fritz, the county’s director of current development.  
Ever since supervisors adopted their economic vitality action plan in January 2010, staff have been tasked with finding ways to make the county more business-friendly. 
One aspect of that research has focused on streamlining the approval process for site plans. Those are the legally-binding documents that depict architectural and engineering features of new developments. 
“The goals we have had are to shorten the approval times, the cost of development review, maintain opportunities for public input, maintain community quality, and avoid burdensome and unnecessary regulations,” Fritz said.
The main concern during Wednesday’s public hearing centered around the role of the Architectural Review Board. Under the changes, the ARB would be brought into the process much earlier. 
“What we’ve done is brought them into the review process earlier, trying to minimize conflicts that occur at the end,” Fritz said. 
During the initial site plan, the ARB would have the power to weigh in on a project’s layout and the location and configuration of buildings on the plan.  
However, Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker said he wanted the ARB to be able to also address the mass and shape of structures at the initial site plan level. 
“I don’t know how you can consider the location, configuration and area of the structures without considering their mass and shape,” Rooker said. 
Staff had recommended limiting the ARB’s focus in order to streamline the process. 
“The reason why their role at the initial site plan stage is limited is because we wanted to have the ARB jump in at that stage to deal with what we have termed ‘the big picture’ issues,” said Albemarle County deputy attorney Greg Kamptner. 
The ARB review would be led by a staff member with written comments from members of the ARB. 
Neil Williamson, president of the Free Enterprise Forum, said the proposed ordinance was unclear on whether approval on the initial site plan would be granted by the ARB or by staff. 
“If the ARB is required to take action as a body, will that be an open and public meeting?” Williamson asked. “I’m very concerned about the ARB being in the position that it’s in and not having sunlight… for everyone to see what’s going on.”
Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said she supported the ARB’s earlier action as long as the its members make their decisions in public rather than via email. 
“It’s very different in people’s understanding… [when] you have a meeting and you hear each other’s questions  then if you’re getting an email that you may or may not understand,” Mallek said. 
Supervisor Duane E. Snow said he was concerned that opinions of the ARB are subjective. 
“What safeguards are there that the applicant thinks he’s fulfilled the requirements and then all of a sudden the targets have moved?” Snow asked. 
Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd said he eventually wants the board to discuss the future of the ARB. 
“We have to remember that the Planning Commission and the ARB are not elected bodies, they are not the final decision-makers,” Boyd said. 
Another change would allow developers to begin grading their property as soon as the initial site plan is granted. Currently that can’t happen until after the final site plan is approved. 
“[Developers would] have to have an erosion control plan to ensure the grading is being done properly and that they have the right control measures in place, and they’d also to have a bond put in place to ensure stabilization should they stop the project,” Fritz said. 
Additionally, the Planning Commission would no longer conduct any review of site plans, unless the applicant appealed a judgment by staff.  
The board voted 5-0 to defer action on the changes with . Supervisor Christopher J. Dumler being absent.  Staff will make revisions to the ordinance to clarify supervisors’ concerns. The item is scheduled to return before the board at the Oct. 3 meeting.