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Thread: Site visits - do you make them regularly?

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    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Site visits - do you make them regularly?

    I'm just curious. Do you make site visits to the relevant property for every application that comes before your local boards? Before I entered the profession, my assumption was that I would be out in the field multiple times per week making site visits as part of the development review process. Three years in, I haven't found this to be the case at all. Obviously, we review any site plans, floor plans, surveys, etc submitted, examine GIS imagery we have to see how the property relates to its abutters, and do any other due diligence that can be done in the office. Making a trip into the field is something that is done rarely and my boss would probably find it strange were I to ask to spend a few hours per week driving around town to make site visits. Over the years, I have made visits during my lunch hour to sites under review and I've found it gives me a more solid sense of what I'm talking about during the subsequent hearing.


    Thoughts?

  2. #2
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    I visit every site that goes to our BZA. I take pictures and try and give the board a more realistic view of the property. I have found that the pictures and drawings that are submitted are often times not relevant or show issues in a different light. If I take the pictures, I can highlight the issues.
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

  3. #3
    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    We always do site visits. I can't imagine not doing them. There are things you just can't see with GIS or aerial imagery. Sometimes little things that only a neighboring property owner would be concerned about.
    "I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany"

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    I complete site visits very regularly. For all applications that are seen before the Planning Commission, I schedule a site visit. Doesn't matter how large or small. I do this to get a feel for a project, take site photos and have a better understanding for questions by the public or commissioners.

    For Plan Checks, I will do a site visit sometimes to get a feel for what is being developed. I also have to do site visits if a building permit requires either a) tree protection verification, b) landscape final or c) design review inspection or d) when a building inspector needs a planner for verification of a 2nd unit or other violation.

    Most retail or large scale residential developments require b or c around here. Tree protection is a given for most of the small projects because of our native tree ordinance. I would say I am in the office about 90% of the time, the other 10% are site visits.
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  5. #5
    maudit anglais
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    My first municipal job (small department in a mid-sized city) I did site visits all the time, and it was expected. It tied in well with other parts of the job (like looking for missing stop signs, malfunctioning lights, etc.). We had City cars for that...and yes, Friday afternoons were the most popular time for site visits.

    Other municipal jobs where I was just reviewing studies and doing more policy-oriented work, site visits were generally not expected and generally I only made them on my own time or if I happened to be close by (no City car, no reimbursement for travel).

    Now, as a consultant, I try to do site visits for all my development proposals. I use my own car (mileage reimbursed) or transit pass. Google streetview is awesome though for quick research (especially for transportation planners!) but shouldn't take the place of a site visit.

    So, yeah - I think site visits are very important for planners.

  6. #6
    (for now) Frozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Always.

    I can't think of a time when it wouldn't be warranted...well maybe I can.

    My last job I was the ZBA staff liaision. But do the extent of input by staff - ie we didn't give recommendations, therefore no analysis - site visits were sort of unnecessary, because the level of plans submitted were always sufficient for dicussion/decision.

    Now, Board members often did their own site visits, but I generally didn't because the typical requests were often straight forward and easily explained by me using just aerials and the provided plans.

    For Plan Commission and my current job, site visits are always necessary.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    In general, yes. However, the town I work for is so small that I can often recall things by memory. In cases I can't, or if things aren't clear, then I do. On some slow days, I drive around in our department vehicle and take notes on things, even if there's no applications in for certain areas.

  8. #8
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    Generally, no. After 10+ years here, I'm familiar with 95% of the sites where development is occurring. The other 5%, I'll make a site visit to.
    "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

  9. #9
    Cyburbian ursus's avatar
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    I almost always perform site visits. Depending on the nature of the app or project I might do multiples. Sometimes I like to walk around an area, too. You never know the nuances of a place like you do when you've spent some time there on foot.

    I don't get out as much as I'd like to these days, but in this smaller city I'm needed at the office more than before. Even so, I hate to write a report about a place I have not been in person. It just always goes badly for me when I do.
    "...I would never try to tick Hink off. He kinda intimidates me. He's quite butch, you know." - Maister

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    I make time to visit every site. Besides just getting a feel for the site, sometimes the conditions on the ground are not as they appear on the site plans, GIS, air photos, etc. We just processed a minor application for a mechanic going into an existing structure, and some elements of the storm water management system were not in place as indicated. If we didn't catch it, the neighbor would still be enjoying runoff from these guys' parking lot.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Each and every site. Even is very small towns it helps.

  12. #12
    Zoning Lord Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mike gurnee View post
    Each and every site. Even is very small towns it helps.
    Agreed. I might not write the staff reports, but they are all my projects and I'm ultimately responsible.

    I also agree that Friday afternoons are the best times to conduct site visits.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian transguy's avatar
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    I perform site visits to almost every site. The only exception is for small modifications to projects I've worked on recently (in the past year, maybe two). I also try and go out on a couple of days to each site, just to try and get a fresh perspective. I think my boss would be ticked off if I didn't do this. It's not uncommon at all for a nearby resident to come to the meeting and not having an understanding of the site AND adjacent areas makes staff look bad.
    Much work remains to be done before we can announce our total failure to make any progress.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Thanks for the responses, everyone. This is great info. For those of you in the public sector who do make visits frequently, do you have access to a municipal vehicle? Our department does not have access to the motor pool, though the code enforcement guys would probably be happy to ferry us around if needed. The alternative would be to use my own vehicle, which while the easiest option is not my first preference since we're only able to put in for mileage reimbursement when attending events outside of the community.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian Coragus's avatar
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    We visit every site we get an application for, whether it be for Planning Commission or Board of Adjustment. We don't always take pictures, but we do like to have the first hand experience of the site visit. Not everything is observable from an aerial photo.
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  16. #16
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by MacheteJames View post
    For those of you in the public sector who do make visits frequently, do you have access to a municipal vehicle?
    Yes. Our department has its own vehicle and each building inspector also has their own so there are typically always vehicles available. Even my private sector firm had its own vehicle pool. I find it odd that munis don't now a days.
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  17. #17
    Cyburbian SW MI Planner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by MacheteJames View post
    Thanks for the responses, everyone. This is great info. For those of you in the public sector who do make visits frequently, do you have access to a municipal vehicle? Our department does not have access to the motor pool, though the code enforcement guys would probably be happy to ferry us around if needed. The alternative would be to use my own vehicle, which while the easiest option is not my first preference since we're only able to put in for mileage reimbursement when attending events outside of the community.
    I'm the department head for a mid size city and staff makes site visits for each request we receive in the office. I also try myself to get out and look at different properties and complaints and things too, even though those are generally assigned to someone else. I think you get a completely different perspective in the field than you do in the office.

    We have one dept vehicle that the Zoning Inspector primarily uses, but share it as necessary. The City pays mileage for inside the community, but because there is enough downtime for the dept vehicle, staff knows to coordinate for the use of the van. I always just drive my personal vehicle and don't charge mileage.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian Planit's avatar
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    We look at every site and take photographs if necessary. We also include an aerial of each site in our development packets. I guess we're spoiled here in the fact that every planner, code enforcement and building inspector is assigned a vehicle.
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  19. #19
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Always, even if I think I'm familiar with the site. Planning shouldn't be just a desk job. You have to be familiar with the community where you work.

    Vehicle: it depends on the site, and the demand for the departmental vehicle. I like using my own vehicle, because of mileage reimbursement, but using a city vehicle gives you an appearance of authority if you have to go onto the property itself.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  20. #20
    Small city. Every site is visited, in person, as well as reviews of aerial photography, including new pictometry and historic aerials and maps.

    We had the "loser cruiser", a former police detective vehicle, that was handed down to the street department, who then handed it down to animal control, who in turn handed it down to the wastewater plant, who then passed it on to us. It was a 1990 model Chevrolet (Lumina?) with ~220,000 hard mi on it when we got it. We put about 40 miles on it before it went belly up.

    My staff are reimbursed for mileage. I don't make mileage claims, ever. (It's a paranoia thing ... )

  21. #21
    Cyburbian
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    Site visits are a must and even prior to an actual application, we like to go and "check it out". I'm from the locality that I work for and we have year old aerials, but nothing compares to actual site visits. In the summer and winter, we're less apt to do them as frequently. I always enjoyed them because you get some time away from the office. Our code enforcement officer has his own vehicle and our environmental planner frequents the field more often than the rest of us so she has first dibs. If our department vehicles aren't available, we're allowed to use another government vehicle. I try to do some follow ups and visit. It just depends, I may go out twice a week or once a month. Either way, I can't see how any planner is not expected to do site visits for projects.

  22. #22
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    I always do a site visit. The one time I didn't (I thought I knew the property well enough) the owner had constructed an illegal shed in the side yard a few days before the meeting. At the meeting, Board members were pressing me for details about how it came to pass that shed got built and how long it had been there, did it meet setbacks and building separation distances, etc. Never again will that happen.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian
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    All applications for permits or subdivisions require photos to be submitted; however any application for a permit here in Calgary requires the planner to do a site visit.

    When I used to be on one of the residential teams - I went all the time for every file. I know when something has to go to the Planning Commission, staff visit the site for photos as part of the presentation.

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