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Impossible review procedures


If a person wanted to open a new junkyard, transfer station, or similar use , regardless of size, in my city this is what they would have to go through:

1. pre submittal meeting with the building department to discuss and submit drawings and plans
2. provide a title search to prove that they own the land
3. a public hearing with the special land use committee
4. a public hearing with the building department (for the zoning)
5. the special land use committee makes a recommendation to the building department, who issues a decision on the land use. In many cases, the decision is to deny.
6. appeal to the ZBA
7. obtain a permit from the state department of environmental quality
8. obtain inclusion on the county solid waste management plan
9. obtain a license from the consumer affairs department
10. obtain a permit from the county air quality agency
11. obtain a permit from the city environmental quality agency, who requires that they perform at the least a Phase I environmental assessment.
12. appeal if any of the above are denied
13. there are also fire marshal and engineering reviews that I don’t know anything about.

I am sure that I am missing a few steps, the process is very ambiguous and it has never been written down. A while ago an old man wanted to operate, from what I could tell, a legitimate business that was needed in the community. After going through the committee that I sit on (and waiting for 3 months for our decision), we informed him that our approval was conditional on getting approval from everybody else. The entire process, if done completely, would take him years to complete and a great deal of money. And as a consequence, these businesses rarely obtain full compliance with the law.

I am not sure if all of this is done because every agency wants to put their 2 cents in, or if it is intended to discourage these types of businesses. We are not an affluent city, we are a poor old industrial rust belt city, and these businesses perform an important role. Does anybody have a similar problem? The involvement of so many layers of government (state, county, many city agencies) makes streamlining the review process very difficult. Has anybody come up with a process that includes all of these levels of government?

el Guapo

Maybe, Maybe not...

Some of it does seem excessive (consumer affairs dept.?). On the other had it appears it is not the review process itself that kills these applications, but the time period it takes to complete the individual reviews. Cumulatively, they appear from your post to be toxic to the individual project.

An example in my career was coming across a firm that wanted to operate a mobile car crushing unit on leased farm land. We needed that kind of service in our community because of our blight of junk vehicles. Upon checking with environmental departments in neighboring states, while the application was being processed, we found that the applicant had been less than tidy with the fluids resulting from the crushing process in two other states. This resulted in very large litigation trail that was following the company. It was our perception they were just trying to stay ahead of the inevitable collapse. If they set up shop in our community they could stay in business a little longer. They choose our state and county next because it was perceived that we would be an easy sell because of our deserved reputation for growth at any cost.

If it had not been for the time period necessary to process the application we would not have found out in time that they were considered bad actors elsewhere. Some of our conditional use requirements were having them get permitted with the state environmental department prior to beginning operations and a pre and post setup site inspection with the land owner and the firm manager and environmental sampling pre and post set up. This proved too much for them. They went to another community. When they left it they left a huge mess that resulted in more litigation.

This is not to say all such operators are bad apples, hardly. But times have changed. When my grandfather operated one of these things it was common to pour stuff in the creek, as a kid I helped him do this sometimes. Now, we need to set the bar higher than the majority of these old style operator can handle. Having a complex application process weeds out those that won’t be able to handle everyday environmental compliance regulations as a beneficial side effect.

We have all had people come in to our offices and we could tell after 10 minutes with them that they were going to create a shit hole in our community, but they were just savvy enough to say what the zoning board and commissioner wanted to hear (Growth, Jobs). These applications got special scrutiny by my staff. And looking back I don’t think I misjudged a single one. That is where you come in. With out being obvious, give the applicants that are going to be good stewards a little more assistance. Those that are obviously going to screw up your community you give what is required and no more.

Some may argue that I am suggesting discrimination. You bet I am, but discrimination based not on personal characteristics, but on the merit of the applicant (prior history) and their application.