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Thread: Ethics question - developer to fund comp plan?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian ssc's avatar
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    Ethics question - developer to fund comp plan?

    Suppose a town does not have enough money to pay a consultant to complete a comp plan. Suppose a local developer gives the town several thousand to pay to complete the plan. The developer, who owns a large property in the town, has an interest in the plan being completed b/c he (1) knows that the town is not going to move forward with infrastructure improvements until plan is complete, and (2) hopes that the completed plan will give him an idea of what the town wants to see on his property.

    Is this ethical? I do have my own opinion on this one, but I woud like to see what others think...

  2. #2
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Probably ok....as long as there is absolutely no evidence or suggestion that the developer is guiding the electeds' decision making process about plan's outcome.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

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  3. #3
    If a town lacks a school and I donate a school to it, is it okay to send my children there?

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    Cyburbian JimPlans's avatar
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    As long as there are controls and separation

    If the developer was involved in the decision to hire a consultant, or could withold payment if he/she didn't like the result, then there would be a conflict, I think. If the money is given to the town up front with the expectation that a competitive bidding process would occur, the town would choose the best planner for the job, and it was clear that the planner's client was the town and only the town, then it would be fine.

  5. #5
         
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    I think it is ok. I don't even have a problem with the developer/landowner lobbying the officials as long as its public or disclosed to the public. Comp Plans are legislative in nature and its very common for special interests to shape their outcome. If an environmental group put up the money you wouldn't shut them out of the process. Why would a developer be treated differently?

    I also agree with JimPlans.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    I don't like it. The developer has something directly to gain from the plan being completed and possibly with the plan being completed in their favor. It would be hard to prove it was done unbiased to the developer's interests. I would avoid doing this at all costs. Maybe for each development application that is approved a pro rata share can be collected to complete the master plan?

    I would just fear that certain interests are involved when neutrality and objectivity are the real goals of the master plan.
    @GigCityPlanner

  7. #7
    Cyburbian cch's avatar
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    Smells fishy. Maybe it isn't breaking any rules or laws, but there has to be a way to update a comp plan without relying on a developer, cause you know the developer woudn't be doing this unless he had something to gain. I can picture him being all up in the consultant's business, possibly swaying the way the plan is done, since he is basically paying the consultant. Is there no way the work could be done in-house?

  8. #8
          Downtown's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Tide View post
    I don't like it. The developer has something directly to gain from the plan being completed and possibly with the plan being completed in their favor. It would be hard to prove it was done unbiased to the developer's interests. I would avoid doing this at all costs. Maybe for each development application that is approved a pro rata share can be collected to complete the master plan?

    I would just fear that certain interests are involved when neutrality and objectivity are the real goals of the master plan.
    I agree. And I think that unless things are organized the way JimPlans has outlined, you will never be able to get out from under a shroud of suspicion - and ultimately, the Comp Plan HAS to be a document that is created from grass roots public participation.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally posted by Tide View post
    I don't like it. The developer has something directly to gain from the plan being completed and possibly with the plan being completed in their favor. It would be hard to prove it was done unbiased to the developer's interests. I would avoid doing this at all costs. Maybe for each development application that is approved a pro rata share can be collected to complete the master plan?

    I would just fear that certain interests are involved when neutrality and objectivity are the real goals of the master plan.
    But there is no plan. This is a pure benefit to everyone, since the town goes from having nothing to having something. The developer acts to improve the town and his own business.

    Why can't the town and the developer have the same interests?

    Quote Originally posted by Downtown View post
    I agree. And I think that unless things are organized the way JimPlans has outlined, you will never be able to get out from under a shroud of suspicion - and ultimately, the Comp Plan HAS to be a document that is created from grass roots public participation.
    Before the land has been developed, there is no public to participate in the planning.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jaws View post
    But there is no plan. This is a pure benefit to everyone, since the town goes from having nothing to having something. The developer acts to improve the town and his own business.

    Why can't the town and the developer have the same interests?


    Before the land has been developed, there is no public to participate in the planning.
    1) It is quite possible the developer and the citizens have the same interestes, but I wouldn't assume that for one second. The Developer probabaly could gain a LOT from a few ticks of a FAR, or a new road, or a specific zoning being cut off just past their land. etc. etc.

    2) There is public participation during the master plan creation during the review phase.
    @GigCityPlanner

  11. #11
    Quote Originally posted by Tide View post
    1) It is quite possible the developer and the citizens have the same interestes, but I wouldn't assume that for one second. The Developer probabaly could gain a LOT from a few ticks of a FAR, or a new road, or a specific zoning being cut off just past their land. etc. etc.
    And the city has a lot to gain from expanding its resource base.

    This is just a developers-are-evil mindset.
    2) There is public participation during the master plan creation during the review phase.
    There can't be public participation in the new development because the new residents haven't moved in yet, and we don't know who they will be.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jaws View post
    And the city has a lot to gain from expanding its resource base.

    This is just a developers-are-evil mindset.


    There can't be public participation in the new development because the new residents haven't moved in yet, and we don't know who they will be.
    Fine, I'll bite again...

    It's not a developers are eveil mindset, it's just plain old cautiousness. I would not be comfortable with the possible outcome of letting the developer rape the town because he showed some green in their time of need. How about get a bond as the town for a couple hundred thou and pay it off over 30 years, that'll get you more than enough cash than "being in someones pocket", whether or not they ever take advantage of it.

    And there has to be some people living in the town if they are making a plan it's not PUD that has no citizens since it is still on paper.
    @GigCityPlanner

  13. #13
    You think a town that's in debt for 30 years will be in a position to refuse anything from the developer?

    This lack of trust reflects more poorly on the mayor than the developer. If you can't trust the mayor to say no to a clearly detrimental plan, why would you trust him to get the town in debt for 30 years? What's the point of having a mayor at all?

  14. #14
    maudit anglais
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    I don't see any problems. We get developers to pay for all kinds of studies here. But then again, we're planning whores

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    Quote Originally posted by jaws View post
    And the city has a lot to gain from expanding its resource base.

    This is just a developers-are-evil mindset.


    There can't be public participation in the new development because the new residents haven't moved in yet, and we don't know who they will be.
    The Comp Plan is not just a plan for the property the developer wants to develop, it is a plan for the entire community - there will be plenty of public participation. Perhaps the City and Developer could coordinate efforts and each pay a portion (wee are currently doing that for a feasibility study for an electric streetcar). Whe we did our Comp Plan (in-house) we had a steering committee, there were plenty of developers on the committee as well as reps from the Home Builders Association.

    If the community cannot pay for its own comp plan and all bidding procedures are followed, I think it is a feasible arrangement. I would go as far to say it would still be alright if that same developer was on the steering committee.

    Ideally, I think the plan should be done in house, maybe at a very slow pace but if that isn't an option, finding another funding source may be the only way to go. I would look into grants and/or collaborating with a nearby community first.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian ssc's avatar
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    Wow - what a diversity of opinions!

    Full disclosure here - I am the consultant. They mayor approached me to re-write a plan that was never adopted (b/c its awful!). No chance they could do it in-house since they have no staff at all. The developer offered b/c it is a very small town and he heard of the financial crunch. Believe it or not, this is a "good" developer who likes the town. He does own land, and could develop it now - in fact, already has the permits in place. But he doesn't want to do the permitted cookie-cutter subdiv and truly wants to know what the town would like to see there. I am not really concerned about his motives, but I am concerned about perception. As I recall, our AICP code of ethics states that we have to avoid perception of conflict of interest. As long as I am working for the town, I don't think it impacts me personally where the town gets the $, but I do worry about how it will look from their end. On the other hand, it is a financially strapped town and I can't volunteer my services and they desperately need a plan (although they do have the aforementioned draft, there is no formally adopted plan which puts their entire zoning code and other land use regs in jeopardy in our fair state).

    What do you all think now???

  17. #17
          Downtown's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Tranplanner View post
    I don't see any problems. We get developers to pay for all kinds of studies here. But then again, we're planning whores
    But I think there's a big difference between a traffic study v. a Comp Plan, and I would be very nervous about the developer's influence over the plan.

    I'm not saying the Town and Developer can't have similar interests - but a comp plan is about balancing as many interests as possible. And if an unscrupulous developer were driving that process, it could be disastrous for the community.

    Quote Originally posted by ssc View post
    Wow - what a diversity of opinions!

    Full disclosure here - I am the consultant. They mayor approached me to re-write a plan that was never adopted (b/c its awful!). No chance they could do it in-house since they have no staff at all. The developer offered b/c it is a very small town and he heard of the financial crunch. Believe it or not, this is a "good" developer who likes the town. He does own land, and could develop it now - in fact, already has the permits in place. But he doesn't want to do the permitted cookie-cutter subdiv and truly wants to know what the town would like to see there. I am not really concerned about his motives, but I am concerned about perception. As I recall, our AICP code of ethics states that we have to avoid perception of conflict of interest. As long as I am working for the town, I don't think it impacts me personally where the town gets the $, but I do worry about how it will look from their end. On the other hand, it is a financially strapped town and I can't volunteer my services and they desperately need a plan (although they do have the aforementioned draft, there is no formally adopted plan which puts their entire zoning code and other land use regs in jeopardy in our fair state).

    What do you all think now???

    I think that if your public input process is completely open, and as long as everything in the Comp Plan can be justified by what came out of the public input process, then your @$$ is covered.

    BUT, if you have public meetings with poor attendence, or public surveys with poor response rates, you're in trouble. I would really recommend going above and beyond for getting turnout at public meetings.
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 31 Oct 2006 at 3:49 PM. Reason: double reply

  18. #18
    maudit anglais
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    Quote Originally posted by Downtown View post
    But I think there's a big difference between a traffic study v. a Comp Plan, and I would be very nervous about the developer's influence over the plan.

    I'm not saying the Town and Developer can't have similar interests - but a comp plan is about balancing as many interests as possible. And if an unscrupulous developer were driving that process, it could be disastrous for the community.
    We get developers to fund other studies, not just impact-related analyses. Official/Comp plan may be pushing it a bit, but as Jaxspra mentioned these plans have a public process. As long as the developer is only providing funding, and not actually doing the study I see no real conflict.

  19. #19
    I am inclined to think that there needs to be some form of payback mechanism, at least for optics purposes. I could just see the headlines in the local newspapers resulting from this.....

  20. #20
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ssc View post
    As I recall, our AICP code of ethics states that we have to avoid perception of conflict of interest.
    I think this is the crux of things. Even if the developer has no nefarious intentions in crafting the plan to his/her personal benefit, the APPEARANCE of such a conflict could result in legal wrangling that might also cost the city some big bucks (which it sounds like they do not have).

    So long as it is transparent and easy to show that the developer simply helped foot the bill for a third party to draft the plan and did not try to leverage the funding to achieve favoritism, people are not likely to cry foul. This way the developer can participate in the process at the same level all development interests do and there is no perception that because they paid more money that they have more of a say.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  21. #21
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    Hey, I think I may faint but:

    I agree with Jaws!


    The comp plan (and believe me, I know, because I'm in the policy phase right now) is the most public process you can get! If the plan is voted upon by the electorate, then I think you are all set as the Town or the consultant - this developer/owner can go to the meetings and say what he/she likes, just like everyobdy else, even sit on the committee if you have one (and may I suggest you don't, I didn't, and it is working so much better thus far)

    I will tell you, to add to Jaws' statements, that it is in the Town's best interest to work with landowners who own undeveloped and large pieces of land, because they are the ones most affected, and, I am finding, in one on one sessions with these guys, that I can get some buy-in on things like TDR's, growth management controls and resource protection alot better than if it was a top-down, you do this or else approach!

    so go ahead - and don't let the person pick the firm, get the money escrowed, thank them publicly, don't form a committee, and don't be afraid to involve this person!

  22. #22
    Cyburbian ssc's avatar
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    This is all very interesting. It seems that the way one looks at this situation depends greatly on whether the developer is considered a concerned member of the community or an outsider not to be trusted....

  23. #23
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Tranplanner View post
    I don't see any problems. We get developers to pay for all kinds of studies here. But then again, we're planning whores
    If you are w's we are high priced call girls, ormaybe crack w's ard to ditinguish between the three sometimes.

    If the developer is paying for the planning of hard services (ie sewer/road) I have no problem.


    If teh developer is paying for planning services that indirectly improve his property I have no problem.

    If the policies created directly I have no problem, as long as they benefit everyone equally.

    If the planning only benefits his property, then we have a problem.
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

  24. #24
    Cyburbian Jeff's avatar
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    If this is the worst of the back-door dealings you have to worry about, you'll be OK!

  25. #25
    Cyburbian IlliniPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    Probably ok....as long as there is absolutely no evidence or suggestion that the developer is guiding the electeds' decision making process about plan's outcome.
    I don't like it because if he's able to pay for the town's comp plan, he can definitely donate to the "electeds'" campaign fund if the electeds cast the right vote ("I'm the town's developer and I paid for this message." ).
    One lot of redevelopment prevents a block of sprawl.

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