Part 3: The Home Stretch
By: Bob Brown, Principal
Okay you have made it this far. What can you expect to happen next? Maybe it has been a while since you have heard from the Planning Department. You got busy managing your business, expecting your application to be almost approved. You call up and find that it is sitting on a desk collecting dust. What now?
- Push. Know that the Planner is working on a pile of projects that came in before yours. How important is your project? Can you wait or what happens if your project gets stalled? At some point in the process it is your turn to have a staff planner work on your project. Keep checking in to ask about progress. Know that when problems arise it is easier for the planner to set your project aside to work on other projects. Stay in contact, return emails, phone calls and respond to requests for information as quickly as possible. Don’t lose the momentum that your project is gaining or it may be slow starting again.
- It’s Understandable. The Planner’s role is to assist and represent the public, including you. You deserve straight forward answers to your questions. They should be able to answer why and in a manner that you can understand. A planner that gives me an answer I don’t like but does so respectfully I can respect. A planner that lays down the law because of their position (“It’s that way because I say so”) –that is when I make the call to their supervising planner or director. Planners have bad days like the rest of us –give them some grace; but constant bad attitudes shouldn’t be tolerated. They are public servants, whether they like that term or not.
- On Guard. There is a set process of taking your project through approval. If you act like a jerk –there are sometimes ‘special processes’ just for you. Remember Part 1 Tips –your involvement in this process is like an investment, look at it as a sales pitch to get your project approved. Keep the goal in mind and don’t let petty attitudes get in the way, especially yours. Know that it can be a stressful process –guard your responses carefully.
- Terminology. There is also set terminology. You should be given a clear understanding of the process, some best case/worst case scheduling dates and an understanding of all the jargon that is thrown out during the process. The Planners role is to help you understand this process. Keep asking questions until you understand it.
- Won’t You Be My Neighbor? If your project goes to a public hearing (e.g. Planning Commission hearing) then notices are sent out to the neighborhood surrounding the project. Where you may be working with Planning staff for months the neighborhood may know nothing about your project until a week ahead of the public hearing. People generally are not comfortable with change, no matter how wonderful you think your project is. In order to review your application the neighborhood may need to take a day off work and who really likes to go to night meetings anyway? Most applications go to the Planning Commission with a recommendation of approval because all the known concerns are worked out ahead of time. This makes the neighborhood mad because they think it’s a done deal and they haven’t been able to express their concerns or ask their questions.
So here is the question. Do you want to engage the neighborhood earlier in the process to see if you can inform them about your project, listen to their concerns and address their issues? Or do you want to risk delay in your project as the Planning Commission continues your project to the next meeting so staff has a chance to address those changes?
- What else happens when you deal with a concerned neighborhood? Petition drives, neighborhood organization meetings, pulling in attorneys or environmental advocacy groups, presenting challenges to the process or substance of the staff determinations, etc. The public has been given the right to be involved in this process. Alleviating their concerns with good design and then reaching out to the community to inform and to listen goes a long way to set aside the need for the neighborhood to take these other extreme measures.
- Business Advocacy. Where a neighborhood may be concerned with negative impacts there is also a need in the greater community for businesses providing jobs, services, goods; exactly what your business is proposing. Most people who show up at public hearings are people who have concerns about the project. It is sometimes helpful to have those who support your project or are part of the business community to show up and speak. They speak for the greater good of the larger community that goes beyond the neighborhood setting. Request support from your clients and vendors, either by showing up at a meeting or writing a letter of support. Why is your business important to the community?
- Project Approval-what then? As you pat yourself on the back know that it isn’t over yet. Talk with your planner to learn about when conditions or fees need to be paid, other reviews or permits are necessary and more important when your project approval becomes final. There usually is an appeal period where people can challenge the decision made on your project.
- Dream On. You just went through a long, expensive process. You have become a different person having experienced this process and you will probably never want to go through anything like it again. You question the sanity of anyone who does this for a living, including your consultant.
There are a lot of mixed emotions you might be experiencing. But setting aside the hurt feelings, the attacks, the expenses –remember your initial goal. You have approval of your project and it is now up to you to make the most of it. But you can do it because this is your business. This is what you are good at doing. This is your dream, your vision.
Streamline Planning Consultants is a local permitting / business advocacy firm and has obtained permits for many local business expansions and relocations. They offer free consultations if you are considering a business move.