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Creating a Developer-Friendly Attitude

By Bill R. Shelton, CEcD

Developers and municipalities stereotypically have a love-hate relationship. They need each other, but they often drive each other crazy. For cities that want to spur retail development, the importance of being developer-friendly can’t be overstated. As a rule, successful retail development is generally a private/public partnership. Historically, retail projects were initiated by the retailer or the developer, who then sought the involvement of the public sector to provide infrastructure and incentives. Today, many municipalities are initiating retail projects and seeking the involvement of competent developers. Either way a healthy public/private partnership is crucial to getting the retail development process off the ground and ensuring its continued success. Having a hard time recruiting retail development? Your city may have the reputation of being “anti-developer.” Too often, city codes and regulations become too strict. Over-zealous enforcement turns off developers. Soon, the word gets around in the real estate industry, and the city loses development opportunities. As retail development becomes more competitive, the communities that will succeed are developer-friendly. This does not mean that all rules, regulations and restrictions are eliminated. It simply means that the community removes confusing and cumbersome policies and procedures. Follow these tips to become developer-friendly:

1. Streamline permitting procedures. This is perhaps the most important way to abolish a tarnished reputation. Making the permitting process faster and easier is a major first step. Adding a guaranteed timeframe for getting all necessary approvals makes the streamlining process even more acceptable. Look at it from the developer’s perspective. Would you like to conduct business in a municipality that requires you to deliver a separate set of building plans to 14 different city offices for approval and then wait for all 14 to get back to you on their own timetables? This is not an exaggeration; it actually happens.

2. Create easy-to-use zoning and building codes. Over time, the zoning codes become a tangle of undecipherable rules. As new employees take over the planning department, they often add new rules without removing or modifying existing ones. The resulting code is impossible to understand. Often, the cure is a complete rewrite with clearly defined development standards and permit evaluation criteria.

3. Develop a competitive impact fee system. Developers have a choice regarding where they initiate projects. Are your impact fees higher than those of surrounding municipalities? These fees may be the reason developers are passing you by and flocking to the city next door.

4. Educate and motivate your staff. Make sure the staff members who deal with developers convey your city’s pro-developer stance. Train the staff to have a “can-do” attitude when it comes to getting information to developers. It doesn’t help to have great policies and procedures if they are carried out begrudgingly by your staff.  And, as staff members develop a “customer friendly” attitude, they will become actively involved in making recommendations to improve codes and processes.

Journey Awareness Persona Economic Development/Elected Official City Government