Sheilds Unveils Plans for More Public Notification of Building Permits, Plans

Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields informed the City Council at a work session this Monday that he’s preparing to launch an effort to make the public more aware of building, renovation and development activity in the City.

Shields said he intends to increase the use of public notifications, through legal notices in the News-Press and other means, including the City’s newly-redesigned web site, to let citizens know better what’s going on around town.

Instead of resorting to limited mailings, for example, Shields said that notification of weekly meetings of the City’s Chesapeake Bay Interdisciplinary Review Team (CBIRT) held every Wednesday morning at City Hall will be published in the News-Press for everyone to see the week before.

The purpose of these notices, he said, will be to alert the public to a project that will be brought to the review team prior to its approval. The rule is that every building project that involves the disturbance of more than 2,500 square feet of earth requires a grading plan that demonstrates compliance with zoning, soil and erosion, landscaping and Chesapeake Bay protection codes.

The final review of these grading plans occurs as the CBIRT meetings. While there is the potential to hold a CBIRT meeting every week, they are, in fact, called when there are matters to consider. City staff personnel from the planning, engineering and arborist offices make up the review board.

Shields noted to the Council that the City of Falls Church is already unique among jurisdictions in the region for making public the time and place of these meetings. Now it will go an extra step and formally publish notification of meetings in the press, encouraging public interest and participation.

Another effect of this new policy will ensure that all divisions of the City government are on the “same page” with regard to any particular review, meaning that no one in the zoning department, for example, can sign off on a project prior to review by the entire board.

“Given the fact that project plans can change in the course of the final review at the CBIRT meeting, this marks a logical final sign off point in the process. It also is a date that is well documented, both through public notice and records of the meeting,” Shields told the Council. “The effective date of certain approvals has been a point of controversy in recent zoning cases.”

Shields also announced his plans to submit a list of all building permit, trade permit and occupancy permit approvals in the City to the News-Press for publication, and to make the list also available on the City’s web site.

This “is intended to provide a public record of building improvements in the city, and to promote compliance with the City’s building permit laws,” he said.

Unlike the CBIRT meeting notices, however, the list of building permit approvals will be provided for permits already OK’d.

Shields noted in comments to the News-Press that building permits are required for any significant improvement in a residential or business property, including for plumbing and new decks or fences.

Small improvements can be approved quickly, he said, but ones for add-ons of rooms, for example, can take longer. After a permit is OK’d at City Hall and the construction occurs, the citizen is supposed to contact City Hall to have an inspector come out and take a look.

Seeing a list in the paper each week will help educate the public on the kinds of work requiring a building permit, and will presumably make everyone more diligent in both applying for permits when required, or reporting when someone is doing significant work at their home or business and no report of a building permit approval is found in the published notice.