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Thread: Developer-initiated studies

  1. #1
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Developer-initiated studies

    Often local planning boards require developers to submit studies on the impact of their development on the community. The traffic study is probably the most common but often environmental assessments and studies of the impact on other public services are requested. It has been my experience that the development community routinely manipulates data to present their project favorably, which is probably not an earth-shattering notion to anyone involved in local government planning. It seems to me that there are enough consulting firms out there willing to produce anything for the right price. I would be interested in hearing other opinions on the topic. Does this practice speak to an inherent lack of ethics among consultants? Or is this just a Florida thing?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    Old consulting joke:

    Client: What time is it?
    Consultant: What time do you want it to be?

    Unfortunately there are plenty of consultants who will, how do you say, shade things for the benefit of their clients. If we have a serious doubt about a consultant's study we require the applicant to pay for a peer review, by a peer of our choice. I've only had to do that with geotechnical studies, of all things. Regarding traffic studies, if printed on the right kind of paper they make excellent substitutes for Sears catalogs in the outhouse. They have no other rational use.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian ABS's avatar
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    Most local goverments require the submission of traffic, noise and hydrology studies outsourced to consultants by the developers.
    Great mindless think alike.

    Planning my way out of wet paper bag since 2003

  4. #4
    Cyburbian natski's avatar
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    In LG in NSW developers provide that sort of info to us- via them getting consultants to do the work- and yes they are open to manipulation- but we can decide to get our own consultant on board also if we think things arent right.... but at a cost to us.
    "Have you ever wondered if there was more to life, other than being really, really, ridiculously good looking?" Zoolander

  5. #5
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    2 words: peer review

    make sure your ordinance allows you to hire a peer in the field of the study, at the expense of the applicant (escrow) to review the work of the consultant.

    I do this with engineering a lot - usually they work out the issues of the project and let me know what they ended up with

    you won't typically get a basis for denial but i usually get a slightly better development than if no one qualified had looked at the study

    I mean, planners are jacks of all trades but we have our limitations

  6. #6
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by luckless pedestrian
    2 words: peer review

    make sure your ordinance allows you to hire a peer in the field of the study, at the expense of the applicant (escrow) to review the work of the consultant.
    Exactly how we do it. Our consultant reviews all engineering & traffic. Works very well, if you have a good consultant on your side.
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

  7. #7

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    Otis is so right about traffic studies. I'm thinking about eliminating the requirement. They always (except for the very biggest projects we review) find that there will be no "significant" impact because they look at the impacts of one change. There is no cumulative impact analysis. In an ideal world, I think the Town would have its own cumulative studies, and we are beginning to take that approach - we have an RFQ coming out soon for a thorough analysis of one commercial area. I am also going to include traffic studies as an eligible use of impact fees when we redo our transportation impact fee ordinance later this year. That will fund more cumulative studies.

    Like others, we hire consulting engineers to review some plans. This is essential when we are looking at installations like lift stations. But a good planner has to develop a nose for what is right and what isn't in the larger context. I am looking at a proposed stormwater pond right now that a consulting engineer would say meets all the criteria (I am not going to pay someone to say that because the engineer who designed it is fairly reliable) but that is still not in compliance with the spirit of the Town's code, which requires them to minimize grading. A consulting engineer is unlikey, at best, to say that they need to change the layout of the dwelling units in order to move that pond - but that is exactly what I am going to do.

  8. #8
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Lee Nellis
    Otis is so right about traffic studies. I'm thinking about eliminating the requirement. They always (except for the very biggest projects we review) find that there will be no "significant" impact because they look at the impacts of one change. There is no cumulative impact analysis. In an ideal world, I think the Town would have its own cumulative studies, and we are beginning to take that approach - we have an RFQ coming out soon for a thorough analysis of one commercial area. I am also going to include traffic studies as an eligible use of impact fees when we redo our transportation impact fee ordinance later this year. That will fund more cumulative studies..
    i worked for a town where we had a transportation planning fund for the route 1/95/128 corridor that developers had to pay into as part of their site plan application - we used the money to look at the whole corridor and then come up with mitigation for the whole area

    it worked okay - but only for the medium sized developments - the big boys (wal-mart) had to put in that necessary ramp themselves

    so if you do this, maybe figure out what the size of a large development would be that would trigger by itself some mitigation like turning lanes, signals and such and make them pay (and install) for their stuff - but the mid size or small developments could pay in to a town wide transportation plan effort -

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I have more typically seen economic impact studies or market studies submitted to support a project. One I particularly loved suggested that adding a new big box store would impact businesses for just three years, after which everybody would be back to normal. In other words, the market would grow to the size of the big box's sales. Uh, yeah. Maybe a gross misinterpretation of the research on big box impacts? Accidental or deliberate?
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  10. #10
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Lee Nellis
    Otis is so right about traffic studies. I'm thinking about eliminating the requirement.
    Wound never do that here. PM peak hour impacts contribute either to an impact fee system, or are required to do off-site improvements.

    Two levels of Traffic reports under our regs - a short analysys for projects with less than 1000 daily trips or 100 peak hour trips, full traffic study for all others.

    Reg citation:

    3.14 TRAFFIC IMPACT ANALYSIS
    a. SUBMITTALS: All projects must provide a report meeting the requirements outlined for a “short” traffic impact analysis. If any of the following conditions apply, then a “full” traffic impact analysis must be completed:
    1. Trip generation exceeding 1,000 average daily trips or 100 peak hour trips. Peak hour is defined as any of the following:
    i. AM peak hour (7-9 AM);
    ii. PM peak hour (4-6 PM);
    iii. Saturday midday peak hour (11AM-1PM); and
    iv. peak hour generator for certain land uses (e.g., school, movie theater) if it falls outside the three previously listed periods. Analysis of Saturday midday peak only applies to retail uses.
    2. The Planning Department may require a “Full” analysis because of special circumstances.

    b. REQUIRED FOR “SHORT” ANALYSES: The “Short” analysis has two primary objectives: First, to justify that a “Full” analysis is not required, and, second, to determine the appropriate impact fee (as outlined in Section XXII of the Zoning Ordinance) imposed on the proponent. At a minimum, the “Short” analysis must include the following:
    1. Description of Site: A brief narrative of the character of the site and adjacent properties, including land uses and other pertinent facts.
    2. Description of Roadways: A brief narrative of the study area roadway facilities, including the number of lanes, speed limit, major intersections, and locations of existing driveways. A description of pedestrian amenities such as sidewalks, crosswalks, and handicap ramps should also be completed.
    3. Sight Distance: Measurements shall be provided for each driveway. A comparison of the available sight distance at each study intersection with Town of Londonderry standards shall be included.
    4. Trip Generation: In all cases, the analysis shall include trip generation based upon the ITE Trip Generation Handbook - latest edition. Where the applicant feels the ITE trip generation is not representative of the proposed development, justification must be provided for alternative trip generation methodology. If counts are performed to determine trip generation rates, the applicant must conduct two separate counts and provide full details of the count locations, including the size of the facility, percent occupancy, location, adjacent road Average Daily Traffic (ADT), time, and date of count.
    5. Trip Distribution: At the “Short” analysis level, trip distribution shall be described in a report that demonstrates knowledge of area-wide land uses, roadway facilities, and predominant traffic flows by time of day. The analysis shall contain a percentage distribution of trips (by direction) to the adjacent roadway facilities and any relevant assumptions. All assumptions made shall be outlined, with justification, in the report.
    6. The report shall be stamped by a professional engineer.

    c. REQUIRED FOR “FULL” ANALYSES
    1. The applicant shall meet with the Planning Department to confirm the study area and study area requirements.
    2. General Requirements: All information described in the “Short” analysis must also be contained in the “Full” analysis.
    3. Existing Traffic Counts: In no case shall existing traffic counts used in the analysis be more than two years old (from date of count to date of analysis submittal). If a significant change (e.g., new roadway or development) has occurred within the last two years, the Planning Department and/or Department of Public Works can, at their discretion, require that new counts be conducted. Traffic counts shall include information on date, time, day of week, and name of the firm or individual who performed the counts. Traffic counts shall be seasonally adjusted to average and peak conditions.
    4. Design Year Traffic Projection:
    i. Design Year: The design year for traffic projections shall be 10 years from the current year.
    ii. The applicant shall obtain a list from the Town of Londonderry containing all proposed developments permitted to date within the study area. The traffic generated by these projects shall be added to the no-build and build analyses. Additionally, the background growth rate should be determined based upon information obtained from the NH Department of Transportation or the Southern New Hampshire Regional Planning Commission. The calculated background growth rate should be completely documented and included in the study for review.
    iii. Trip Generation: Traffic projection for trip generation growth is described in the “Short” analysis section.
    iv. Trip Distribution: The applicant shall provide justification for the assumed trip distribution. The trip distribution methodology should be representative of the type of development. Data may be obtained from employee zip code analysis, studies of similar sites, analysis of ADT on adjacent roadways, US Census journey to work and home-based work/non-work trips, or other sources. Graphic presentation shall be provided showing 1) peak hour trips added by the development, and 2) study area peak hour traffic volumes under each of the following scenarios:
    a. Existing conditions;
    b. Existing conditions with proposed development;
    c. No build for design year, and;
    d. Build for design year .
    5. Peak Hour Capacity Analysis: Capacity analysis is to be performed at all study intersections (including driveways) using the most current Highway Capacity Manual Level of Service methodology for signalized and unsignalized intersections. Each of the four scenarios listed above must be analyzed at a minimum. A gap acceptance analysis should be provided in the case of adjustment to the default critical gap in the capacity analysis.
    6. Safety Analysis: Accident data for the roadways and intersections included in the study area shall be obtained from the Londonderry Police Department. Accident history for the three most recent years available shall be summarized and compared to the Statewide or national rates established for the corresponding facility type (e.g., rural two-lane highway, urban arterial, etc.).
    i. The minimum all season sight distance shall be three-hundred sixty-five (365) feet in all directions meeting the requirements for roadway intersections and Exhibit D3 of the Londonderry Subdivision Regulations.
    7. Trucks: The location of loading docks and/or delivery drop-off areas shall be given in the analysis. The estimated frequency of trucks by time of day shall be provided when the number of daily truck trips exceeds 30 percent of the ADT on any roadway in the study area.
    8. Parking: There should be a defined correlation between estimated trip generation and parking space requirements. The proposal shall contain a comparison of daily and peak hour trip generation estimates to the number of proposed parking spaces on site.
    9. Narrative: Discussion of the following shall be provided:
    i. Travel safety characteristics of any streets substantially impacted by allowing the “build” alternative, considering such things as sight distance limitations, width limitations, horizontal or vertical alignment deficiencies, and surface conditions;
    ii. Streetside safety of any streets substantially impacted, considering such things as the amount and type of development along such streets, presence of sidewalks, vehicle speeds, and any outstanding limitations in sight distance or road configuration;
    iii. Impact on pedestrian safety and convenience;
    iv. Noise impacts on residential premises.
    10. Mitigation: Any mitigating measures proposed shall be described in detail and included in the analysis. It is imperative that the applicants identify improvements to intersections even if they don’t fund them fully. Transportation Demand Management (TDM), non-vehicular transportation and mass transit should be strongly considered as mitigating strategies.

    d. STANDARDS
    1. If not more severely limited under other provisions of other laws or regulations, the absolute increase in calculated intersection delay, under “build” conditions, shall be no more than 10-20 seconds.
    2. Average daily traffic volumes shall not be increased by more than one-third above the “no-build” level on any street.

    e. PROCEDURE
    1. Applicants shall contact the Planning Department early in the project design regarding the scoping of any traffic studies, including consideration of the study area boundary, the definition of “alternative” where involved, and the type of mitigation, if any, which are likely to prove appropriate.
    2. Impact studies shall be submitted at the time of application for site plan review, to allow review prior to the public hearing or meeting at which the project will be presented to the Planning Board.
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    I suggest the key to getting better studies is to ensure that qualified Staff have a hand in setting the scope of that study. If the scope and assumptions are understood and agreed upon by the developer and Staff, the study results should be more acceptable.

    As to the cumulative study issue, that is an interesting concept Lee. However in many places, a developer project is expected to mitigate its own impacts and cannot be asked solve problems the development does not create.

    Finally, don't be so hard on consultants, I work with some very good ones every day. Often they are reacting to direction from a client. I find while there are many times Staff questions certain conclusions, those things get worked out and never become a significant outstanding issue in the deliberation of a case.

    And not to pick on the public guys/gals here--we on the private side have many of the same suspicions for Staff produced studies

  12. #12
    maudit anglais
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    Quote Originally posted by gkmo62u
    I suggest the key to getting better studies is to ensure that qualified Staff have a hand in setting the scope of that study. If the scope and assumptions are understood and agreed upon by the developer and Staff, the study results should be more acceptable.

    As to the cumulative study issue, that is an interesting concept Lee. However in many places, a developer project is expected to mitigate its own impacts and cannot be asked solve problems the development does not create.
    Excellent points, Gk.

    I find the best studies I review are the ones where the consultant has spent a bit of time with us beforehand going over background assumptions and developing an agreed upon scope-of-work before initiating their study.

  13. #13
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by gkmo62u
    I suggest the key to getting better studies is to ensure that qualified Staff have a hand in setting the scope of that study.
    Agree completely, and that's why we require a scoping meeting with staff for full analyses.
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

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