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Design review back to council

A report card on reforms in the design review process is almost ready for prime time.

The Design Review Task Force has been evaluating the success of reforms adopted by the City Council in 2006 as recommended by the task force to alleviate strife in the review process, recommendations that included earmarking certain projects for special staff assistance and increasing fees. The 13th draft of the evaluation is expected to be completed at Monday’s meeting and vetted by interested groups before presentation to the City Council in October.

“We should have a comprehensive draft next Monday, tweaking has been assigned and we will run it past the Design Review Board, the Planning Commission and city staff, but we will retain editorial control,” said Rob Zur Schmiede, who represents the Planning Commission on the task force.

The task force believes the reforms have improved the process, but it could be made better.

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Technology is one tool that has not been sufficiently used, according to Chairman Matt Lawson.

“I am talking about bringing to bear some up-to-date technology to make the process more productive — easier for the staff and everybody,” Lawson said. “Some things have been done to the website, but they are baby steps.”

Lawson would like to see video links on the website so users could view recent hearings, available through uploads to services such as YouTube.

However, Community Development Director John Montgomery, who attended Monday’s meeting, said a drastic upgrade in the website should go online this month or in September.

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“It is more robust than YouTube,” Montgomery said.

The task force also included a recommendation in its draft evaluation to provide remotely accessible city e-mail and voicemail boxes for board members and to provide them with Smart Phones, although task force member Lance Polster said the phones weren’t needed.

Other task force members opined that the city wouldn’t spring for the purchases.

“Whether the city goes for it is not our problem,” said task force member Marion Jacobs

Inconsistent information to the public could be avoided, Lawson said, by providing staff with laptop, tablet or netbook computers to log in who was told what by whom and when on every project address.

“People at the counter are helpful, but the information is inconsistent,” Lawson said.

The task force also recommended converting all files to fully electronic form, which Montgomery said is already an ongoing project.

Other recommendations:

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 Include the website on the public notices of staff-assisted design review projects.

 Hire another landscape plan checker.

 Establish clear, written criteria for review of non-permitted construction.

 Establish a firm three-year timetable to create a user-friendly design review section on the city website that would work with any web browser so applicants, the design community, or neighbors and interested parties never have to set foot in City Hall.

”This is a biggie,” Lawson said.

The task force also will request that City Atty. Philip Kohn put in writing the requirement for the review of un-permitted construction to use the same criteria that would be used if the project were going through the review process prior to construction.

Further, the recommendation stated that a decision by the board to deny or approve the project should not be influenced by whether the work was done illegally, inconveniences the applicants or cost them a bundle.

Monday’s meeting took place on the fifth anniversary of the appointments by the City Council to the seven-member task force.

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The appointments included Lawson, Vice Chairman Gene Gratz, Design Review Board Chairwoman Ilse Lenschow, Zur Schmiede, architect Polster, architect and DRB member Leslie LeBon and Jacobs, all still active.

An evaluation of the progress made on the recommendations was presented to the council at a joint meeting with the Planning Commission and the board in March 2007.

The council requested an implementation review of the staff assisted projects, but the follow-up review has been expanded to include how all the reforms of the task are working.



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