• New technology will speed process with electronic plan review
  • Home construction permit time cut from 10 days to 5-day average
  • New user-friendly approach involves communities at plans’ start, broadens scope to planning

County Executive Thomas P. Gordon campaigned for his first term with a promise of fully updating county land-use laws for the first time since 1954 – and still delivers on that promise.

Updates of the Unified Development Code adopted in 1997 continue – with extensive outreach including many public meetings, focus groups and workshops -- to clarify and simplify regulations while promoting responsible growth.
To promote understanding of the goals and philosophy of county zoning regulations, the administration is working on a document called the “Guiding Principles for Development,” as well as creation of a new zoning district for economic empowerment and zoning overlay for neighborhood preservation.

Gordon has stressed the need to consider traffic in the process, leading to new cooperation with the state Department of Transportation as the agencies collaborate reviewing plans and determining needs to mitigate traffic from new development.

Perhaps the greatest modernization under Gordon and Department of Land Use General Manager George O. Haggerty combines the latest technology and a user-friendly approach.

In addition to user-friendly technology already available, such as on-line interactive forms and information, the department is developing its first online permitting, with the goal of allowing all permit applications to be submitted electronically.

In addition to improving efficiency and collaboration with other agencies, e-permits will be a time-saver for the county as well as the applicants, historically required to apply for their permits in person.

Another helpful shift comes with community outreach and transportation considerations starting as projects begin – part of shifting the department’s focus from regulatory enforcement to service with incentives to revitalize economic development. This cut the entire process to seven months for Incyte – creating jobs, supporting a new asset and getting the old Wanamaker’s site at Augustine Cut-Off back into use. The county also reaches out to small businesses to offer meetings and process information to guide their decision-making.

Land use officials also broadened their scope, with regional planning studies and developing a master plan for the Del. 9 corridor to improve access to jobs, healthy food, community services, recreation and affordable housing in the area where the county is building a world-class library and “innovation center” under the Department of Community Services. The department created a master plan supporting Claymont redevelopment, another for Glasgow Avenue with a Main Street atmosphere and is starting plans to revitalize Concord Pike (U.S. 202), as well as managing or assisting with scenic byway studies for Red Clay Valley and Brandywine Valley.

Both homeowners and commercial projects also get more assistance than in the past, along with more efficient processes. A prime example is the reduction of average permitting time for home construction from 10 days to five.

The department has added the opportunity for homeowners to get courtesy inspections that do more than help ensure their projects meet code requirements by providing the chance to address questions or concerns they may have. Help also is provided to small business owners in navigating development projects from start to finish.

To help commercial projects meet their schedules as well as county code requirements, they may have pre-, mid- and final-project reviews.

And once a commercial project is finished, the department seeks feedback with exit interviews to help continue improving county services.

With an eye for streamlining, Haggerty said, the county is adopting a benchmark modernization, with the technology of electronic plans that will allow agencies’ instantaneous, simultaneous review -- and “should cut 10 to 20 percent off normal times for plan review.”

“In the past,” Haggerty said, “it’s often been more like a relay race with one agency handing the baton off to another.”

The new system is “a key component of our economic development strategy,” Gordon said, adding electronic plans ensure the county can “offer a thorough, efficient and transparent process that allows responsible growth to occur without lengthy delays and an expensive, burdensome process.”