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Cities being extremely picky with plans and appears to make everything difficult

paiste13

Cyburbian
Messages
231
Points
9
I work for a private developer and used to work as a public sector planner. We work in a number of cities and there are a few that seem to be incredibly nitpicky about every minor detail of a plan. They want construction plans before they'll look at prelim plats, they won't let there be any small changes to a final plat from a prelim plat, every single building needs to go to the Planning Commission and Council, even on the same site and with the same aesthetic look. Every piece of a private parking lot needs to be vetted and reviewed by engineering before the Planning Commission will ever consider it. To top it off, the end result is the same sprawl that is built everywhere, just a longer and more expensive process. It's not like this town is filled with new urbanism or has legacy neighborhoods, it's all new suburban developments.

It seems like they are making it difficult for the sake of making it difficult. I am not talking about major changes like rezoning, but minor, technical things that have no effect on the general public. My thought is that the staff does not (or can not) use any decision-making abilities so everything is pushed to the council. This is either because the council wants to review everything for the sake of review or the staff is afraid of making a minor technical decision that someone may disagree with and they don't want to get yelled at.

Do any of you work in or for cities like this? What is the rational for this level of oversight?
 

DVD

Cyburbian
Messages
13,548
Points
36
Small towns tend to push everything toward the council or PZ. All development is political and this is just how staff protects themselves. It could also be the way their code is written. They need to differentiate between minor changes and major. What is admin approval and what needs PZ. It could also be the office or political culture. My city is a never slow development or reject a project kind of place even if the answer really is no. The city next to us looks for every possible reason to reject stuff based on "better development." I honestly think it's because they are so far in debt that they intentionally reject stuff to get extra revenue. Either way we all know not to work for that city who is desperate for planners. Then again, sometimes you just get @hole planners. I've seen people in my office reject things for basically not dotting an i. We tend to move those people to doing cell towers and minor development over the big projects. Granted when it comes to final plats to be recorded I make sure everything is correct, but most of the stuff you're talking about we just work out in house. The only reason we're a little slow in our office is the workload compared to the workforce.
 

af2087

Member
Messages
1
Points
0
Unfortunately, here in Texas, that's about to get worse (regarding plats) thanks to our illustrious legislative bodies...
 

paiste13

Cyburbian
Messages
231
Points
9
Small towns tend to push everything toward the council or PZ. All development is political and this is just how staff protects themselves. It could also be the way their code is written. They need to differentiate between minor changes and major. What is admin approval and what needs PZ. It could also be the office or political culture. My city is a never slow development or reject a project kind of place even if the answer really is no. The city next to us looks for every possible reason to reject stuff based on "better development." I honestly think it's because they are so far in debt that they intentionally reject stuff to get extra revenue. Either way we all know not to work for that city who is desperate for planners. Then again, sometimes you just get @hole planners. I've seen people in my office reject things for basically not dotting an i. We tend to move those people to doing cell towers and minor development over the big projects. Granted when it comes to final plats to be recorded I make sure everything is correct, but most of the stuff you're talking about we just work out in house. The only reason we're a little slow in our office is the workload compared to the workforce.
This is a growing suburban community of about 50,000. Unfortunately their neighboring towns are all more diverse and low income, so the developers tend to build in this newer town. The town knows this so really has no incentive for them to change. They will hold up a project because an easement goes from 20 feet to 18 feet wide, for example. They will hold up a project because they want wrought iron balconies instead of composite. And not just "let's fix this before the upcoming council meeting", but "we can't proceed at all until these changes are made."
 

Faust_Motel

Cyburbian
Messages
293
Points
13
Does the town have strict standards that are clear and need to be met for approval, or are they making it up as they go along? Those two scenarios are really different in my mind.

If you need a 20 foot easement in my municipality and you're showing 18, I'm going to find your application incomplete and you're not going before the governing body until you fix it! (You can appeal my decision on completeness to the same body if you want to take that ride, but hey, I get paid either way.)

Nitpicking in the absence of clear standards is obstructionist for sure.
 

DVD

Cyburbian
Messages
13,548
Points
36
Yep, I've got one on my desk that calls for no more than 30% lot coverage - they got a variance to do that. They're showing 30.8%. Answer is no. I have no choice in that. If you can't provide the 20' easement we want we'll make you do a technical appeal and prove why it's not possible and that we can get what we need in 18'. Because the town is small I'm guessing it's a mix of staff experience with political pressures. Is this the kind of place where the staff has worked there since they were 18 and the HR guy is now the planner (seen it)?
 

Suburb Repairman

moderator in moderation
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
7,326
Points
30
...My thought is that the staff does not (or can not) use any decision-making abilities so everything is pushed to the council. This is either because the council wants to review everything for the sake of review or the staff is afraid of making a minor technical decision that someone may disagree with and they don't want to get yelled at.

Do any of you work in or for cities like this? What is the rational for this level of oversight?
I've been around cities like this. And there is really no good reason for it. It is often linked to poor city management and an inadequate city attorney.

Almost without fail, this is the result of exceptionally inflexible codes with little to no administrative discretion allowed. In some cases it has always been that way, while in other cases the City Council (or their noisiest constituents) got a project that they didn't like. And then, after they've created this horribly inflexible code, they turn around and bash staff for being "anti-development" when they're the ones that created the problem. In some suburbs, this obtuse approach to development review is intentional and pontificated from on high by the City Manager following direction from City Council. Some actually want the reputation of being difficult in order to slow growth that threatens their "community character" (whatever the F that means in an anonymous, monoculture suburb). I typically call them drawbridge trolls since they just want to lift the drawbridge behind them after they arrive in town.

This is actually what led to a poorly conceived state law change in Texas' legislative session this last Spring regarding application shot clocks. I'm out there trying to defend cities with my APA hat on, and then I get verified reports of crap like this that make it impossible to fight back. This results in all cities being punished for the sins of a few. What's funny is that the bill is likely going to make it worse and more adversarial, as it is going to force the "good cities" to become hardcore sticklers in order to satisfy processing requirements. Gone will be the days of "just get us that info later and we'll go ahead and review the rest." On the plus side, it gives cities in Texas a reason to absolutely filet the civil engineers that are too lazy & unprofessional to do proper QA/QC prior to submitting to the city. It is also going to drive up fees since cities will have to staff up to support peak surges in permit activity.

That being said, if you are not complying with a stated standard linked to an adopted code or technical construction standard (like your easement example), then that's on you. If the city is acting arbitrarily or capriciously, then that's on them and you should exercise your due process options available under the code (and judiciary, if it goes that far).
 
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