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Thread: Developer assisted public participation

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Plus pcjournal's avatar
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    Developer assisted public participation

    Looking for some feedback. I'm editor of the Planning Commissioners Journal. In our Spring issue we're running an article that touches on a variety of methods for engaging the public in planning. One of the topics briefly mentioned is developer assisted participation:

    Developer Assisted Outreach: Before a development plan is submitted, call on the applicant to engage in a reasonable, yet vigorous, public outreach campaign. Such engagement can lead to significant improvements to the development plan, as the neighborhood becomes part of the design solution. At the same time, the rumor mill will be tamed, and youíll preempt heated public meetings where issues explode only to delay the process or build acrimony. With this approach to engagement, encourage the developer to provide documentation such as minutes, or even a video recording, of their efforts to engage the public.

    Question: have any of you used this approach? What have you found to be the advantages and disadvantages? In Burlington, Vermont (where I served on the planning commission) we encouraged developers to present their proposals -- in advance of going through the formal public review process -- to the neighborhood association (we call them "Neighborhood Planning Assembly") in the area the project was planned. But this wasn't actually required by our ordinance, just informally encouraged. We found this very helpful. Otherwise, we'd hear public complaints asking why the developer hadn't spoken to the neighbors earlier.

    Wayne Senville
    Editor, Planning Commissioners Journal
    http://www.plannersweb.com

  2. #2
    We have not codified these types of meetings either. In several instances, the developers have chosen to conduct them and the results have been mixed. In one instance, the developer was seeking approval for a large private medical facility and the ensuing public hearing was very civil. A lot of the typical neighborhood anti-development stock complaints were avoided and the discussion did indeed center on the finer layers of the development. On the other hand, a proposed medium density private residential development for the elderly served only to embitter the neighbors and bring forth even greater bile by the time the public hearing was held.

    In the first case, the development was approved but not built (owing to matters not related to planning or development control). In the latter, the development was endorsed by a wide margin at the Planning Commission but rejected (spuriously, IMO) by the city council -- because of neighborhood opposition.
    Je suis Charlie

  3. #3
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    Our Planning Board has encouraged developer outreach to abutters and neighbors during conceptual discussions, as well as at public hearings. Staff typically also encourages such measures when meeting with applicants before applications are submitted to the town.

    These meetings are handled by the developers (staff and Board members typically do not attend), and often times result in a much better project, and less adversarial Planning Board meetings.
    "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

  4. #4
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    This has become a policy as of recent for us too. We are practically built-out and most everything from now on will be redevelopment. That means abutters for practically everything. And there have been a couple of recent contentious large projects that created alot of heat.

    So, for projects adjacent to residential (especially), we are starting to encourage petitioners to conduct their own community meetings.

    We'll see what happens.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    We have no regulations on requiring developers to conduct such meetings, and I would not support such regulation. Of course we do require developers to give proof of notification to property owners withing 160 feet in addition to our public advertisements.

    Generally it is a good idea for the developer to set up such meetings when he anticipates opposition. He is a good judge on this. It saves time at Public Hearings if he has already explained the project, can identify "troublemakers," and spend some extra time with them to understand their problems or explain his case on a one on one situation.

    I think requiring "vigorous" outreach is a questionable term to use. It is up to the developer to determine his method of approach to potential hostile residents. He must decide whether to be "vigorous" or laid back in his own sales approach for his project. How does one define "vigorous?"

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Plus pcjournal's avatar
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    more on public engagement

    Thanks for all of those replies.

    My own view is that while pre-application meetings handled by the developer can be helpful, I'd be concerned if they're totally outside the public process. The set up here in Burlington, with the Neighborhood Planning Assemblies serving as a forum for initial developer presentations seems to work well since it's the public (through the Neighborhood Planning Assemblies, which are official neighborhood groups recognized by the city) that's running the meeting to which the developer is invited to make the presentation. When the Planning Commission asks the developer if they've appeared before the NPA that also reinforces the importance of the NPAs -- which is a good thing, from my perspective.

    Also, fyi, I just posted on our new blog site the full article (the point on developer assisted outreach was just one example) in case any of you want to see the other public engagement ideas set out.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    In Northern VA my exprience (as a developer) has bee that most juristictions strongly recommend developer hosted public meeting as early as possible in the process. So, its policy not law.

    But imo most developers know that meeting with adjacent poroperty owners, neighbors can be critical to the success of a project.

    I see no harm in the developer running the meeting. Typically staff and pc members are invited. We do sign in sheets, etc...to memorialize the meeting.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by pcjournal View post
    ... In Burlington, Vermont (where I served on the planning commission) we encouraged developers to present their proposals -- in advance of going through the formal public review process -- to the neighborhood association (we call them "Neighborhood Planning Assembly") in the area the project was planned. But this wasn't actually required by our ordinance, just informally encouraged. We found this very helpful. Otherwise, we'd hear public complaints asking why the developer hadn't spoken to the neighbors earlier.
    This is what we encourage (without the neighborhood planning assembly) and we've seen very good results as a result of developer's neighbohood meetings. Its especially encouraged, and expected for applications where the Board has a great deal of discretion to say "no." A lot of neighbor's concerns are smaller issues like lighting and garbage pickup that the applicant can work to take care of. We find its best when the Town is "hands off" at these meetings and lets the 2 sides work out their issues.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    We encourage developers to inform the neighborhood of their projects, in the absence of any city-initiated processes (our leadership treats residents like mushrooms- fed them sh#t and keep them in the dark). The problem with these developer-initiated things obviously is that they are one-sided affairs and the project is presented in a glowing light and the true impacts are minimized or ignored. There is quite a bit of lying as well, particularly about what the city will do or not do or what its codes allow.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Plus pcjournal's avatar
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    one more point: new LEED-ND on developer outreach

    Coincidentally, in doing some research for another article, I just saw that the new LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) rating system (at least in its pilot version) includes a credit for "community outreach."

    This includes when the developer meets with neighbors during the "pre-conceptual design phase" AND hosts an open community meeting AND modifies the project design based on community input or explains why the design will not be modified as requested AND works with the community association to advertise public meetings and generate comments on project design.

    A pdf of the LEED-ND rating system can be downloaded from the US Green Building Council's web site if you want to see the specific language. Look for Neighborhood Pattern & Design Credit 15, Community Outreach.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Trail Nazi's avatar
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    As already mentioned, in NoVa it is policy for developers to meet with the community prior to going through the development review process. I know that it is at least the policy for Fairfax County.

    In Florida, a number of developers are utilizing the design charrette for the development of their DRIs. It has become increasingly popular many of the jurisdictions to actually require DRIs to go through this process although it is not policy. For the DRI process, prior to the actual pre-app developers are holding a "charrette" with the policy makers for the jurisdiction as well as some of the state agencies. The Treasure Coast RPC has been taking the lead in this process.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian martini's avatar
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    My fair community recently (before my time though) instituted a Planned Community District (PCD) zoning category. Itís kind of aimed directly at this community involvement aspect, though all parties are more or less Ďforcedí to come to the table through a Class II public notice format for two public hearings. One before the Plan Commission, and one before the City Council.

    In fact, this is so new that the first cases of it going through the hearing process is right now. The first hearing was Monday night. There has already been a re-direction with involvement form the Design and Preservation Commission being requested by the Plan Commission. After the recommendation from the D&P, it will go back before the Plan Comm., then on to the City Council for its final public hearing and (hopefully) decision.

    So far, on this case (rezoning for a Fraternal club in a historic Ďhood), it hasnít worked to its potential. Itís highly controversial, with very strong, stubborn opposition. Iím learning from this case though that I should include D&P (so new that they havenít designated any properties or districts as historic yet) for more sensitive cases.
    You're more boring than you know.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Trail Nazi View post
    In Florida, a number of developers are utilizing the design charrette for the development of their DRIs. It has become increasingly popular many of the jurisdictions to actually require DRIs to go through this process although it is not policy. For the DRI process, prior to the actual pre-app developers are holding a "charrette" with the policy makers for the jurisdiction as well as some of the state agencies. The Treasure Coast RPC has been taking the lead in this process.
    I work in the jurisdiction of the TCRPC. They are so ideological about the new urbanism to the point where they can't reach consensus with developers. While I respect them as designers they have no clue about the realities of real estate development.

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