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Long-winded applicants and presentation brevity


I'm all about brief, hard-hitting staff presentations that lay out the key deliberative points for the board on a given application in a few minutes. I wish I could claim that all of our applicants do the same, but I'd be lying if I did.

In my current gig, applicants before the board are usually given as much time as they'd like for their presentations. Could be 5 minutes, 10 minutes, or as much as 40-45 minutes for a team presentation. In the city that I planned for previously, the planning commission chair would simply state "you're out of time" regardless of whether or not the applicant was finished; 15 minutes maximum per applicant presentation was the typical allowance, but it had to be this way for reasons of sheer volume. These are two very different cities, located in two different regions of the country with different local cultures, so it's not apples to apples. However, for the sake of getting us all out of there at a semi-reasonable hour, controlling the agenda through requiring presentations to adhere to a reasonable timeframe is vital in my view.

How does the planning commissioner/board chair in your community manage applicants so that 'presentation creep' doesn't suck down a whole evening? What's an appropriate maximum presentation length, given your community's context? And what are you doing as staff to help tighten the evening up?


You need a strong leader (Mayor or Chair) to set speaker time limits. They must be consistent and explained at every meeting at the beginning. Be strong with your applicants when you tell them the requirements of their presentation (format, length, Q&A, etc). Cut off the long-winded after a 30 second grace period. Be harsh and the word will get out to keep it within the timeframe.

In a former gig, the rules varied a bit.
At P&Z:
-staff portion was expected to be longer than the applicant's
-applicant wasn't expected/required to make a presentation, but they/someone with knowledge and authority to agree to conditions had better be at the meeting or you would be postponed to next meeting
-if applicant had a presentation, better be 15 min or less, including Q&A

At Council:
-applicant is expected to make a presentation
-staff had better have a detailed presentation
-staff had better have briefed the CM and Assistant CM on all details, which cuts down on their interruptions and questions
-Mayor didn't have a hard timeline for the applicant but would impose limits on speakers at the meeting that were only there in support of/in opposition to the request
-Staff was expected to stay until the entire meeting was over

This was different for me. Most of the places I've been, if staff wasn't running the meeting, then staff could leave when their portion was done. One place I worked had such a rigid staff presentation template, it was rare for a staff presentation on a standard plat/replat/zoning/site plan to be over 5 min. Applicants had 15 minutes (regardless of complexity), not including Q&A, with all other speakers limited usually to 3 minutes, but could "cede" their time to another. Staff left Council meetings when their items/sections were done, but could stay if they wanted to.


Chairman of the bored
Staff member
I had a Fortune 500 company (who, incidentally, accounts for 20% of the entire taxable value of the community) that requested a modest height variance a few years ago involving a 100+ million dollar factory expansion that would bring in scores of new high paying jobs. They'd hired a fresh faced and eager young gentleman to pitch it to the Zoning Board. The young man stops by wearing a $2500 Armani suit and Rolex, to check with me beforehand to see if we had the tech available to show a short film, and how many lawyers and engineers should they bring, and they wanted to ensure there would be sufficient time for three different people to make different parts of the presentation......I had to stop him. "You do understand, don't you, that you could probably show up in a beer stained concert tee and say 'grant this variance...because reasons' and they'll grant the variance. Less is more in your case." He evidently took my advice to heart as he kept the presentation to under five minutes. A public hearing was opened, wherein the only question posed was 'you're bringing in how many new jobs?' It took almost a full 8 seconds following the closure of the public hearing for someone to make a motion to approve.
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Staff member
My counsel to applicants is basically 'the more you talk, the worse your chances of approval'. The wise ones get my drift.