Developers in Prince George’s County could finish construction projects sooner thanks to a revised county program that officials say will speed up the permit approval process.
Beginning Sept. 4, the county’s Department of Environmental Resources and the Department of Public Works and Transportation will launch a new Peer Review Program, an optional program where commercial builders and developers can use county-approved private engineers and consultants to review preliminary applications for permits.
The permit review system is currently bogged down by frequent revisions and multiple reviews by county staff, officials said. By allowing private consultants famliar with the permit process to handle most of the preliminary review, officials said permits can move forward upwards of four to six weeks faster.
DPWT has had a similar program in place for eight years for some of its permit reviews, said agency director Haitham Hijazi, who added programs like this have also been successful in Washington, D.C., and Fairfax County, Va.
DER Director Samuel E. Wynkoop Jr. said developers will be able to pay an additional fee to the consultant in exchange for a permit review process that can be quicker by up to half, as the consultants will handle much of the work before handing it over to the county for final approval. Wynkoop said that with the current system, permit applications can often get tied up with multiple revisions and reviews by county staff, slowing the process down unnecessarily.
“It’s an alternative to plans submitted having to be reviewed by county staff, so they’re reviewed by a county-trained third party,” Wynkoop said. “...So for companies who see time as money and are willing to pay an additional amount to hire a third party to do the review, it can reduce their time for consideration by as much as four to six weeks.”
Hijazi said that there are already several safeguards in place for the program, from the requirement for consultant reviewers to be county-trained and certified annually, to the fact that DER and DPWT staff still make the final review and authorization of all permits.
“When [consultant reviewers] review the plans, they’re not the ones who stamp and issue the permit,” Hijazi said. “Staff still have to do the final review to make sure everything is done in accordance with county standards. There’s always two sets of eyes on every plan.”
Wynkoop said that by allowing third parties to deal with the early stages of permit review, county staff have more time to concentrate on reviewing final applications thoroughly.
Andre Gingles, a Largo-based development attorney, said that his client, the Peterson Cos., used the earlier program that was the basis for the new Peer Review Program when working on permits for roadways at National Harbor around six years ago. He said the extra money his client spent on the consultant reviewer as “well worth it.”
“When you have a loan on a property costing you thousands of dollars per month, if you can cut even three months off of the review time and go to construction, that’s a lot,” Gingles said.
But Bill Cavitt, president of the Indian Head High Area Action Council — a coalition of community groups in southwestern Prince George’s County that often weighs in on development issues — said that although he was not yet familiar with the new program, he said he would definitely be looking into any potential negative implications.
“Any time they’re doing things that are speeding [the process] up, I get suspicious,” Cavitt said.