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Thread: Relationships/influences with developers

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Relationships/influences with developers

    So I was wondering what people thought about their general office relationships with developers.... are people accomodating? Confrontational? Is there good communication? Do people just roll over? Do developers listen and react to your ideas?

    Also, if you have concept meetings with developers, how much do you try to influence their projects? Do you talk policy with them, or do you get into the nitty-gritty details?

    Finally, how many of you make official recommendations to your commission/supervisors/planning board? We simply "give the facts" without official recommendations, but everyone can guess how that works out..

  2. #2
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    [QUOTE=vaughan]So I was wondering what people thought about their general office relationships with developers.... are people accomodating? Confrontational? Is there good communication? Do people just roll over? Do developers listen and react to your ideas?
    [QUOTE]

    More often than not planners deal with consultants rather than the actual developers. I have found that when developers have to get involved in the process they are rarely happy. Sometimes this results in consultants getting fired.

  3. #3
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    Actually, I prefer to deal with the developer/landowner and not the representative. The representatives seem to be more slimy than the applicant. I can work out a better deal with the decision maker becasue I can talk about the town goals and policies whereas the consultant will jsut say "where in the Ordinace does it say you can ask me that" - one of those customer service moments that you just want to say "hey %^&# you pal" - but alas, you do not say such a thing

    if I'm dealing with just the consultant and can't get to the landowner, then yeah, it's all in the details so I make my administrative assistant meet with them for that crap -

    I would recommend always trying to get a private meeting with the applicant - the worst they will say is no

    on official recommendations - we don't come out and say recommend approval or disapproval - we say the buzz words/phrases like "the Board may want to consider how they will apply the standard in Section X to this project" or "the Board may want to question whether y" or the strongest manner is "the Board should consider z"

  4. #4
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    We always encourage the applicant to attend our meetings with the consultant/engineer.....we want them to hear what our position is directly, so that the applicants aren't told "well, it's gonna cost you $x more because the Town now wants...."

    It's amazing how many applicants have a better understanding of the review process when they attend our meetings.....and realize how incompetant so many of the engineers designing their plans are....when we show an applicant what the regulations say, and then he/she turns to his/her engineer and asks why the engineer didn't do something basic from the regs, the silence from the engineers can be deafening.

    On the whole, we have a good relationship with most of the developers and engineering firms that regularly do work in Town.....but they all still like to play games.
    "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

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    We have a good relationship with most developers which is a change from years past when this town was notoriously anti-development. Having a hostile stance towards the development community won't achieve any positive goals because if there's enough demand the development is coming one way or another. We try to get even bad ideas spruced up so that IF the commission decides to approve the bad idea against our recommendations we can live with the end result. Most applicants know that the standards are high but we play fair.

    At the town where I used to work town officials would practically sleep with (commercial) developers to get them to come to town.

  6. #6
         
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    I think our relationship with most developers is very good. There are a few that we always have a problem with. These are the ones who have a history of going over staffs heads when we don't just approve any proposal placed in front of us or they have a philosophical oppposition to government limiting their ability to make boat loads of money. I occasionally have a problem with a development company when I point out that their proposal doesn't meet the Comp. Plan. That makes them quite angry since they sat on the committee that wrote the Comprehensive Plan.

    We have a better relationship with the local consulting firms. We see them almost on a weekly basis. We know each other by our first names. Their offices are only a few blocks away.

    I try to give as much input as possible at the concept review stage before they spend a lot on engineering and other costs. Both policy and details if their concept plan has any details.

    We almost always make a recommendation. I can think of only one time when we didn't come out and recommend denial but the report basically said it was a terrible project. The politics were such at it was going to get approved no matter what we recommended. Didn't want to step in front of that train! Too much potential sales tax dollars for City Council to pass up. The project eventually collapsed for all the reasons I pointed out in the staff report and I later helped get another project approved on the same site with a much needed park site. The same proposed retailers went into a new commercial center across the highway. It turned-out alright in the end.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    I wonder what the cases of wine that show up for the development manager and director say about their relationships with developers?
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Plus Zoning Goddess's avatar
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    The only issue I had was a few years ago at another job at this county where we had to give a copy of our personnal evaluation to a developer to fill out. (Well, the directions said "customer", but developer is what it boiled down to...). I was lucky that mine was lukewarm-nice. Could have been a lot worse. You think you have a good relationship with them, but they probably don't.

  9. #9

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    I think the art of development review is to be perceived as both even-handed and friendly, while getting exactly what you want. lp is correct that this can be easier when dealing directly with the owner, but a good planner knows how to keep the local engineers and surveyors on their toes. too. And a well-written code really helps.

    As for details - we deal with nitty-gritty details. And our understanding of the details of site planning and construction make it hard for designers to say no. A good, practical example is tree species. We did an inventory and realized that 47% of all trees planted in new developments are green ash. More than half of all the rest are maples (if your community doesn't have a tree inventory, do one). So we have gone on a species diversity campaign. I will write it into the code when we make some revisions later this year, but for now we are just "asking" the designers to increase species diversity. And there is 100% compliance. You can have a lot of influence at this level. Another example is that we recently looked at a subdivision proposal and realized there was way too much grading. So we set down in the conference room and re-designed it. When the applicant (who is a good guy) and his engineer showed up, the engineer was a little defensive, but the applicant could immediately see that we had saved him a bunch of money at the same time we were reducing impervious surfaces. There are lots of win-win possibilities in the details.

  10. #10
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Zoning Goddess
    The only issue I had was a few years ago at another job at this county where we had to give a copy of our personnal evaluation to a developer to fill out. (Well, the directions said "customer", but developer is what it boiled down to...). I was lucky that mine was lukewarm-nice. Could have been a lot worse. You think you have a good relationship with them, but they probably don't.

    I can't imagine letting a developer have a say on employee performance - that really stinks!

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    vaughn-don't forget some of us planners are actually developers too!

    From my perspective i think Lee has the right idea. Developers appreciate a balenced, fair, and predictable process--and a Staff that follows this notion.

    If this process is the basis of the relationship between a staff and developer then the relationship should be respectful, if not friendly.

    Sure there are pain in the ass developers. But most, to use lee's example, are happy to sit down with Staff and discuss reasonable alternatives and options for their project. And saving money always help--and I work in juristictions where the rezoning process alone costs well over $100,000 from idea to approval.

    I appreciate this discussion as this board, and the planning profession as well, is so public sector planner driven.

    What irks developers is when Staff has a clear agenda or pet ideas which are not reflected in code, policy, or political direction. There, its easy for us to say "no"

    As to consultants and engineers, I have a rule I live by--never let a consultant or engineer go to a meeting by themselves!

  12. #12
    Member CosmicMojo's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Lee Nellis
    A good, practical example is tree species. We did an inventory and realized that 47% of all trees planted in new developments are green ash. More than half of all the rest are maples (if your community doesn't have a tree inventory, do one). So we have gone on a species diversity campaign. I will write it into the code when we make some revisions later this year
    Very cool. I want more trees. My memories of the prettiest cities I've been in had lots of trees: lining streets, arching over roads, shading sidewalks. I sent a city planner an email asking if my city had a tree ordinance and he never bothered answering. My city seems to see them as pests, they are always cutting them down so they don't drop stuff on cars, etc. They don't seem to want to find creative ways to plant trees that won't hurt your car, etc., the just cut them down preventatively.

    I'm sad that my pretty city with a rich history and lots of beautiful architecture is losing a part of it's aesthetic value because no one in the city staff sees any value to trees.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian
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    Thanks for some great responses...

    One thing that we've been doing over the past few weeks that has got me thinking about this is having process lunches with the engineering, surveying, and consultant community. They LOVE it- we keep hearing people say "nobody ever asks us our opinion on this stuff". We talk about our process and what works and doesn't work, get their perspective on it, and, in the long run, end up with what we want while cutting some of the red tape. Its been a great dialogue, I think.

    One way that I have a different opinion than some of you guys is that I find it SO much easier to work with the professional consultant/engineering community. A developer will have a huge amount of money invested in the project and might not want to change a thing, while the professionals will get paid no matter what and know that if they listen to us, they'll have a better chance of getting their project approved (and thus enhancing their professional reputation).

  14. #14

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    Trees do more than any other single element to define the urban/suburban environment. And trees add value - ask any appraiser.

    One thing that is implicit in this discussion is the importance of planners having site planning and design skills so that you can convincingly negotiate with the developers and designers. You don't have to have an architecture or landscape architecture background to acquire these skills, you can get them via short courses, OJT, etc. but you have to be willing to think about the details.

  15. #15
    Member CosmicMojo's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Lee Nellis
    Trees do more than any other single element to define the urban/suburban environment. And trees add value - ask any appraiser.
    I know, I have a great article where they not only consider the additional appraised value of a property, but also quantified the value of trees' other assets: water retention, erosion control, etc.

    My city is in direct competition with the surrounding counties and thinks they can't afford to scare off the few commercial developments we get by asking for more landscaping. Also, the head of the tree programs doesn't seem to like trees; he must be an engineer and sees them just as threats to cars. They need to hire more landscape architects!

  16. #16
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Lee Nellis
    As for details - we deal with nitty-gritty details. And our understanding of the details of site planning and construction make it hard for designers to say no. A good, practical example is tree species. We did an inventory and realized that 47% of all trees planted in new developments are green ash. More than half of all the rest are maples (if your community doesn't have a tree inventory, do one). So we have gone on a species diversity campaign. I will write it into the code when we make some revisions later this year, but for now we are just "asking" the designers to increase species diversity. And there is 100% compliance. You can have a lot of influence at this level. Another example is that we recently looked at a subdivision proposal and realized there was way too much grading. So we set down in the conference room and re-designed it. When the applicant (who is a good guy) and his engineer showed up, the engineer was a little defensive, but the applicant could immediately see that we had saved him a bunch of money at the same time we were reducing impervious surfaces. There are lots of win-win possibilities in the details.
    You are fortunate to work in a forward-thinking municipality. Unfortunately, I think this type of planning is inconceivable in many parts of the country. Where I work the elected officials don't trust staff, don't understand, or are skeptical of the public interest in planning. Developers consequently hold all the cards and it is very difficult to change the status quo without greater public involvement, which is nearly non-existent.

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