Arlington's development process needs better analysis, better communications and more timely decision making, according to a task force report given to the County Board this month.
The task force spent a year studying the county's development procedures and found the process generally serves "citizens, developers and government officials well."
But it made 34 recommendations to refine the process of evaluating building projects.
"We're talking about little glitches," said Judy Freshman, chairwoman of the task force and a member of the planning commission. "We have a very good open participatory process that really does work."
The suggestions range from putting agenda descriptions in "plain English" to discouraging last-minute changes in development proposals that residents have not had a chance to evaluate.
The report said policy analysis in two areas should be improved. Much attention is paid to individual projects, less to how the projects as a whole affect an area, the task force said.
"It would be timely to review the cumulative impact of recent projects and give more systematic attention to policies and issues likely to grow increasingly important in the next few years," the report said. Such issues include traffic, Freshman said.
"There's a lot of traffic out there and construction going on," she said. "Let's make sure we can handle it."
The report also criticized the analysis provided by the county Department of Public Works.
"Traffic-related issues lead the list of public concerns about many projects and development generally," the report said. "Yet the department is persistently unable to provide authoritative comments during site plan reivews. The backlog of community and commission requests for up-to-date traffic analyses is large and growing."
The report also said the information about development proposals and their status is "widely regarded as inadequate." The task force gave 20 suggestions to improve communications.
The recommendations include: publishing a booklet similar to one used in Montgomery County that describes basic planning and zoning concepts in layman's terms; issuing a regular bulletin on the progress of development proposals; providing cable television coverage of planning commission and board of zoning appeals meetings; and updating mailing lists of civic groups and citizens interested in the development process.
Many residents complained about last-minute deals between developers and the county government, according to the report. While the changes may sometimes result in good projects, "these practices are widely seen as favoring developers and giving citizens short shrift at crucial stages of the process," the report said.
The task force suggested that the County Board adopt a policy to discourage these last-minute changes. Members of the county planning staff have been asked to evaluate the suggestions and report back in February. The County Board will eventually schedule a public hearing to consider adopting some of the recommendations, said Albert C. Eisenberg, the board member who suggested the development process review.
The task force "did a good job. They ranged throughout the community," Eisenberg said. The task force included members of the planning commission, the neighborhood conservation advisory committee, the county Civic Federation and the Chamber of Commerce.