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Thread: Tensions between economic development and planning?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Tensions between economic development and planning?

    I feel like there is tension building between our economic development division and our planning division here in my municipality. Inherently it boils down to our approach to dealing with private sector applicants, which are diametrically opposed to one another. My perception (as a land use planner) is that the E.D. staff feel like they have to say yes to everything so long as it involves development and an economic benefit (real or perceived). There is quite a bit of deal-making done before applicants have to deal with me and my colleagues in the Planning Division, where no is the operative word most of the time. We're not unreasonable or anti-development by any means; we simply have rules/procedures/plans/regulations that guide us. And we consider design, which is not even on the E.D. radar screen. It irks us when we find out about the "done-deals" and generally hate being considered an afterthought, but we clearly are in most cases.

    There are politics involved of course. E.D. is more favored by the administration (no surprise there), and probably more beholden to their wishes. Our planners are politically saavy enough, but we do the unsexy work that the Mayor's office doesn't want to hear about.

    My perspective of our situation is that it is probably common in a lot of local governments because planning/political/community objectives are so naturally conflicting by nature. I find it rather fascinating to see it play out at an organization level and deal with it, as frustrating as it can be. I'm wondering about your own organizations and internal politics... do you experience tensions between various divisions? Have you employed strategies to resolve them?

  2. #2
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Economic development is one of the responsibilities of the Planing Dept. It consists of one staff person within the department under the supervision of the Director (who has a good balance of planning and ED). Therefore, it is a concerted effort to optimize both planning and ED.

    Luckily, most of our commercial districts are pretty liberal in regards to uses and bulk requirements, so there is not usually a big hurdle to overcome for the real "desirable" ED projects, just our process (which isn't too onerous either).

    We are a 76,000 pop 2nd/3rd ring Chicago suburb
    Last edited by mendelman; 06 Jan 2009 at 10:03 AM.
    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
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    It was several years ago, but good to remember. The State of KY eco-devo group landed an industrial prospect and had the site selected. Only problem: they forgot to ask the local planning commission. Zone change was denied.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Yes, I know some horror stories about Economic Development making promises without consulting Planning to see if they are realistic. On the other hand, I know an equal number of stories of Planning acting imperiously and irrationally killing off good projects promoted by Economic Development. These instances tend to occur when the departments are antagonistic to each other, or where the directors view their departments as fiefdoms where they rule, or where the staff of the departments are idealogues promoting their cause.

    I have always felt that the way to address these circumstances was through forceful leadership. It takes a city administrator or a council to "lay down the law" with the uncooperative staff. Force Economic Development to stay within the lines, or to include a planner in discussions with prospects. Send a clear signal to Planning that zealots are not desired, and to be flexible in their approach. Sometimes it needs to go to the level of removing people who do not get the message. Sometaimes it takes a wholesale restructuring of a department.

    Unfortunately, that kind of strong leadership seldom seems to materialize. The community tends to just go on from one clash, controversy, and public embarrassment to another.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  5. #5
    Cyburbian lilschmidty's avatar
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    I'm not sure if this question belongs in this thread, but how do we as planners help encourage economic growth in an economic downturn. The city I work for has been criticized for not being business friendly because our zoning regulations are strict. There have been talks amongst our department in postponing landscaping requirements for 6 months for example. Have any of you seen planning departments relax or get rid of certain regulations that might keep a business from locating in a city or renovating their existing business in hard economic times?
    Moderator note:
    mendelman
    It really isn't the best place for your question, but I'll leave it here nonetheless. A better place would have been in its own thread in either this subforum or the Land Use & Zoning subforum.
    Last edited by mendelman; 03 Dec 2008 at 5:36 PM.

  6. #6
    A frank discussion with the powers that be and ED's supervisors.

    You have to hope that those in-charge of staff in ED, when it's not housed with planning, understand people need to be trained in their displine AND understand/accept perspectives of planning.

    The issue I've dealt with in the past is too many ED people are great at filling out paperwork as continuing 'progress' (more happy clients). In the end they may support projects that are counterproductive to local vision because they are posting quantity not quality.

    In response to another post here...Relaxing development regularions in hard economic times to support development is the same mistake made in the 70's. Stripmalls galore!

  7. #7
    Cyburbian zman's avatar
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    I had this in another job in the past. ED would simply go around Planning and get things approved, often without our knowledge.
    The thing that pissed me off once was that ED and City Managment was going after a non-profit who bought land and wanted to annex. This was my project and a non-profit with whom I have dealt in my own private matters and an org that stood for things I hold dear. All personal-ness aside, they were going to be told to look elsewhere, we're denying their annexation application because the land is best suited for something more tangible (read: a better money generator for the town). This was the first time I walked into the manager's office to express my opinion on the matter and had it gone through as ED and managment wanted, it would have been the first time I would act as anonymous tipster to the papers (both local and in Denver)

    But alas, the City saw the potential PR mess that they would have on their hands and allowed this organization to come to town.


    In my current job, I am essentially both ED and Planning so I can negotiate my own deals and get things done.
    You get all squeezed up inside/Like the days were carved in stone/You get all wired up inside/And it's bad to be alone

    You can go out, you can take a ride/And when you get out on your own/You get all smoothed out inside/And it's good to be alone
    -Peart

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Plan-it's avatar
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    You or someone from Planning needs to push to be involved in the deal making with economic development. That way the economic development people are not making promises they cannot keep. This will result in better projects and less combatitive environment.

    BUT, there needs to be give and take both ways. Planners often times can go in with blinders and be uncompromising and unable to see the forest through the trees because XYZ regulation says blah. If both sides are reasonable, there can be an excellent trusting relationship that develops that will make both of your Departments jobs easier.
    Satellite City Enabler

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    First off great topic! I work as economic developer for an outer ring suburb/rural area of the Phoenix MSA and have often butted heads with planning.

    If you are good at ED you need to be able to articulate your planning process in a clear and concise manner and have a firm understanding of the zoning and a base understanding of the code.

    I am the first to admit I ask for exceptions all the time except when it is related to health and safety issues.If your ED staff does not talk about design then you need to work with them and educate them on the process and what is acceptable.

    Show your ED department the design guidelines but if they hear you don't like the design with a concrete reason (ie building materials, or does not match the surrounding architecture with proof to back it up) then expect to be end run to the town manager. Ed folks don't want to lose a deal over what is seen as an arbitrary decision. Also good ED professionals understand that good design increases property values and ultimately leads a quality of business.

    It often seems that planners lack the understanding on the competitive nature of the economic development process. Some planner I have worked withhave a "take it or leave it" attitude often results in a "leave it" response from the prospect.

    IMO the best thing a planning department can do is create an easy to understand graphic of the planning processes with time lines. I have asked three different planning departments to help me create this and have gotten push back every time.
    "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less" General Eric Shinseki

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Mark's avatar
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    consistent, fare & fast decisions

    Quote Originally posted by lilschmidty View post
    I'm not sure if this question belongs in this thread, but how do we as planners help encourage economic growth in an economic downturn. The city I work for has been criticized for not being business friendly because our zoning regulations are strict. There have been talks amongst our department in postponing landscaping requirements for 6 months for example. Have any of you seen planning departments relax or get rid of certain regulations that might keep a business from locating in a city or renovating their existing business in hard economic times?
    Moderator note:
    mendelman
    It really isn't the best place for your question, but I'll leave it here nonetheless. A better place would have been in its own thread in either this subforum or the Land Use & Zoning subforum.
    You may have to work on your zoning ordinance and change some of your standards; but why should you expect less quality? There may be another direction to help developers and become a deveolper friendly community. Create fast, fare and consistent development related decisions. I believe that planning/fire/engineering/building departments need to improve efficiencies and fast track approvals. Things like digital submittals, deadlines and timelines, on-line tracking of internal approvals and staff administrative approvals need to be implemented. Check out http://zuckersystems.com/
    Ohhhh Mama, can this really be the end!

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Plus
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    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller View post
    . . . It irks us when we find out about the "done-deals" and generally hate being considered an afterthought, but we clearly are in most cases.
    Oooh... not good... let's move on...

    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller View post
    There are politics involved of course.
    ^^Bingo!

    If you want to change the dynamics, you must create your own 'politics' by befriending your 'opponents'.

    Befriend the administration. Hang out with one of them if you possibly can.

    If you're in planning, hang out with the ED people, too.

    If you're in ED, hang out with the planning people, too.

    Who knows, you may even get to like many of them. A few may become real friends.

    (I'm deliberately acting like a drill sergeant here.)


    hilldweller, your timing for this topic is perfect. 'Tis the season! For all the holiday parties. Get yourself invited. Don't party, just pretend that you're having a great time. Network your head off in the most mellow, low key way that you can. Follow up, follow up, follow up...

    Look at this as a one-time thing that you have to do--as long as you have your job--just for this holiday season.


    Or don't do anything. Maybe, when it comes right down to it, the status quo is fine enough for you.


    My suggestions are quite serious, and come to think of it, they probably belong more in Careers sub-forum.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    ^^
    Seana,
    Your point is an obvious one and you must think I'm an idiot or something if I didn't realize this. These are coworkers that I deal with on a daily basis and even consider myself friends with at some level. Of course I know the importance of maintaining amiable relationships with them, if mainly to get them to see my point of view on our differences. I also network plenty and seize opportunities to bump elbows with the top dogs. Trust me, I'm not just sitting in my office banging my head against my desk all day..

    And yeah, personal relationships are important. No doubt. And I'd like to change an organizational culture and way of thinking by myself but I can't. Heck, I'd love it if we could all just slug beers together and work everything out but this is reality we're dealing with here.

    Quote Originally posted by Seana View post
    hilldweller, your timing for this topic is perfect. 'Tis the season! For all the holiday parties. Get yourself invited. Don't party, just pretend that you're having a great time. Network your head off in the most mellow, low key way that you can. Follow up, follow up, follow up...

    Look at this as a one-time thing that you have to do--as long as you have your job--just for this holiday season.
    rah rah rah.

    Quote Originally posted by Seana View post
    Or don't do anything. Maybe, when it comes right down to it, the status quo is fine enough for you.
    Nice cheap shot, thanks.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Plus
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    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller View post
    Quote Originally posted by Seana View post
    Or don't do anything. Maybe, when it comes right down to it, the status quo is fine enough for you.
    Nice cheap shot, thanks.
    I apologize if that came out as a cheap shot. It wasn't meant to be one. Truly, is was a neutral statement.

    In general, I seem to have antagonized you, which is the last thing I want to do because I really like your posts. Especially because you're the only one who replied to my Florida highway thread thread! Just kidding--I became a fan of your posts from the very start, and your Kramer avi is the perfect touch.

  14. #14
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    Really you should be getting policy direction from the elected officials. Is your municipality in a "we need jobs more than anything" mode? Or a "we need less run away growth and better design" mode?

    Of course, many city councils are in both modes at the same time, making life difficult, huh?

    I've worked on both sides of the fence. It's very frustrating for a planner to be told that something is a "done deal" before the planner has even done their job. It's also very frustrating for a ED person to be tasked with creating jobs by actively courting businesses, only to have the friendly "courting" turn into a series of "nos" once it goes to the planning department.

    The result for the business/applicant is the strong impression that the city doesn't have its act together and the right and left hands don't communicate.

    The best thing is to sit down with ED and say "these are the things that have been coming up. We either need to change them somehow, or they just need to be on their radar so that you can prep the businesses you deal with."

  15. #15
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    this is fun reading since I am about to create an economic development planner in my department...

  16. #16
    Cyburbian
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    I can't believe I missed this thread because I am in need of some serious psychologoical services due to my dealings with our economic development department. We're a exurban community of 60,000 outside of Chicago.

    In our community, economic development is king. Whoops, make that KING. Planning is considered merely a speedbump along the way...meddlers in the process. We've won economic development awards nationally. And we've done a great job of diversifying the economy and attracting large corporations, but to be very blunt....we look like crap.

    I'm the Planning Director and I have a very strained relationship with the economic development director. There's horrible politics in play here....going behind my back to Trustees.....bad mouthing me to managers....etc., etc. I've had several loud encounters with this guy and I've got the full support of the managers to bust him.

    I could cry on your shoulders for hours Hindweller! I think I've done the best that I can in terms of relationship building and positioning our department. But I just want to let you know that I'm with you....I understand your pain....and I'd be very happy to know what you're doing to make the situation better because maybe I could use the infromation to help me!

  17. #17

    Keep your enemies close...

    As a community and economic development consultant I encounter this issue in nearly every city I work in. The smart city managers and department heads realize that this issue can only been improved in a collaborative environment.

    The best approach is to discuss with your department head, and suggest that you have a collaborative discussion (Facilitated by someone external to both of your departments and probably to your city). What you should strive for is the creation of a team approach where you or the planning department is brought in early on in the discussions to address any planning related issues that might arise with the business prospect - this is good for the client, your department, and the eco dev people since it saves resources and face in the long run.

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