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Peter’s Take: Why Can’t Arlington Fix Permitting and Inspection?

by Peter Rousselot August 31, 2017 at 1:00 pm 0

Peter RousselotPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

In an article last week, ARLnow.com chronicled inspection delays plaguing the opening of the new BrickHaus beer garden.

Last week’s article cross-referenced a 2016 ARLnow story detailing complaints by former Virginia Del. Rob Krupicka. He vented about navigating Arlington’s permitting and inspection process to open a donut shop.

This spring, the permitting process for home remodeling was slammed in Arlington Magazine.

Discussion

I interviewed someone who recently opened a small professional services firm in Arlington.

I called this person’s attention to Krupicka’s experience. Was their own more recent experience similar? Answer: yes.

To recap, this is some of what Krupicka said:

  • “Payments have to be made by mail or in person rather than online and for some things you can’t move forward without payment, so that means waiting in line in the planning office for hours.”
  • “Planning, Zoning, Health, etc. don’t talk to each other and it appears they don’t understand where each other fits in the process. The process actually seems to assume the small business person will force that communication and coordination. …The big guys just hire lawyers. Small businesses should not have to.”
  • “Many permits need to be applied for in person. You can’t just submit them online. … I have spent days waiting in the county offices. I have overheard a lot of very unhappy individuals and business people.”
  • “There is an online system for some things, but … it was very cumbersome. I spent hours working with tech support to get it to work.”

Next, I asked my source to summarize their own experience:

  • “There are often complaints of conflicting and differing interpretations of code requirements. For one business I know, they installed the door system according to their approved plans. The first inspector told them it wasn’t approvable, and that they had to replace it with an entirely different system. They made the substitution at great expense. The second inspector told them the re-worked door system was not approvable, and he would only accept the door system that matched their approved building permit plan set. The tenant then had to re-construct the door system for the third time.”
  • “The inspectors use clip boards and then have to go back to the office and enter the data into a desktop. That doubles the effort that the inspectors have to make for each site. Arlington County needs to update from clipboards to a hand-held data management system.”
  • “Technology updating could improve communication with customers/contractors. The data is then instantly reviewable by supervisors and those in other related departments with open permits dependent upon sequential and related inspections.”

Conclusion

Arlington correctly preaches that continually attracting small businesses is vital to our economic future. But, Arlington’s permitting and inspection practices badly undermine its sermons.

Arlington County is still trying to compete using paper in a digital world. Meanwhile, APS is giving iPads to every elementary school student in grades 2-5.

Legendary N.Y. Yankees Manager Casey Stengel proved himself a world-class baseball manager in the 1950’s. In 1962, Casey was hired as the manager to help launch the expansion N.Y. Mets. Expressing his frustration over the Mets’ team performance, Casey famously asked, “can’t anyone here play this game?”

When will someone be held accountable for the long-standing deficiencies in permitting and inspection? Why can’t Arlington County play this game?

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