Cities build development-friendly environments
As states are passing legislation to help developers get projects approved and completed, cities are doing their part to stimulate development, as well. Aside from offering tax breaks or other monetary incentives, they are making their own policies and processes more flexible and efficient to save developers time and effort.
California, for instance, passed legislation last summer to extend for two years the expiration date on tentative maps, vesting tentative maps and parcel maps required for a project’s development. It also passed similar legislation in 2009 as the state experienced a downturn in development. “It’s beneficial to all parties,” says Kathy Millison, city manager for Santa Rosa, Calif., and immediate past chair of the California Association for Local Economic Development. “We go through a rigorous review of a project and then have to start back at square one if it expires.”
Complementing the 2009 state legislation, Santa Rosa adopted the Aggressive Economic Development Augments to the city’s zoning code in July 2010. The package, among other modifications, extends all approved project entitlements — including the previously mentioned maps — for three years. The city now is deciding when it is appropriate to make the extensions a regular law instead of just a special provision, Millison says.
Mayor Ernesto Olivares also created a task force to review the city’s development-related processes to determine which ones need to be amended to assist businesses in getting buildings approved for new tenants and moving projects forward. The city, for instance, has streamlined its front counter process and now can approve a simple tenant request in 24 hours, Millison says. “You have businesses starting up and often starting in vacant buildings or businesses expanding. When we can assist on the time factor in getting people reoccupied, the better off we are.”
Other cities are making their permitting processes more efficient. Atlanta, for instance, recently overhauled its permitting procedures and made dramatic changes to its Office of Buildings. Nearly a decade ago, Bellevue, Wash., joined four other cities in its region to form a consortium that would create a more consistent permitting process to help developers. The consortium, which now has more than a dozen member jurisdictions, operates through MyBuildingPermit.com.
In October, Bellevue went a step further toward making its process more customer-friendly by changing from a paper-based system to a digital system for electrical, mechanical and plumbing permits. Now, applicants can submit their forms online 24 hours a day, and the processing staff reviews the materials and sends changes online. Aside from shortening the process, applicants save money by not having to print copies.
Bellevue plans to make all permits digital by May 2013. “We will continue to see an increase in how expeditious we get with the review process,” says Lionel Forde, systems specialist for Bellevue. “Once you can do everything online, it will be even easier for customers.”
— Jennifer Grzeskowiak is a Laguna Beach, Calif.-based freelance writer.