Monday, July 6, 2009

Tales of a City Planner

Tales of a City Planner
Red Tape

One of the biggest complaints in government is red tape. In fact there is probably some local politician who is saying right now that they are going to “cut the red tape in government and stop waste!” Only to see a free for all in backhand deals, lack of accountability and transparency and possible scandal. Which then leads to another local politician saying they are going to “clean up government,” that inevitably leads to more red tape.

As a planner we are not policy makers. We cannot arbitrarily ignore rules and processes that we think are stupid and arduous. The fun part is that each process is often independent of the other multiple processes and that’s only if it’s determined if you even have to go through any processes at all. There are so many different interpretations of different processes that we ourselves do not which process one development will go through or even how many. Sometimes it feels like your playing Plinko. Developers drop the Plinko chip and think the chip is headed for “straight to permit” and WHAM, they have to go before the Development Review Board, Design Panel and an additional public hearing.
Cue the horns.

Sometimes it feels like you are being a small time hustler explaining all these different processes to the public. Typical convo:

Ok, ok, ok…if you do this, you have to go through this process. If you do that, you have to through this, that annnnnd this. You don’t want do that. But if you do this, you should be straight…but don’t quote me.”

And that conversation is based on…a.) The government employee knows what their talking about and b.) Some other more experienced planner comes us and says, well if you do this, that annnnnd the other thing, you don’t have to go through any of this per this new law. You follow me?

Still not following me? Let me give you a recent real life example of this. I was recently at a meeting in which a private entity would donate half of their property to the government for redevelopment. Since the property’s land use had been grandfathered due to pre-existing use before it’s zoning changed, the property would need a special exception as well…and since they are giving a portion of their property away, a variance for other setbacks and regulations. On top of that there is a historical landmark on the property, which triggers the review of the Historic commission of the development plan. Finally there were major environmental problems with the site and a question on flip the bill for the environmental upgrades.

So this one development triggers an acquisition, a subdivision (along with design review), special exception, variance, historic review and stringent environmental review. So what development is so important that if triggers six, that’s right six different governmental processes? This must be some type of huge tax revenue inducing, multi-use complex that will trigger hundreds of jobs…this has to be it, right? Because who would go over this much scrutiny for a… *drumroll please*… park. That’s right a park. Not an office, not a high-rise but a park. “
We’re talking about park.”

Building a park should never be this hard. This is not an episode of Parks & Recreation. But thanks to red tape we must treat this park as if we were reviewing the site plan of a new mall. But despite the hassle and the meeting of at least six different agencies to discuss a park, I’m sure government would look a lit worse if we just arbitrarily started accepting valuable pieces of lands from private entities with no condition. I’m sure that would be fine but I’m sure that you can see how that could become a slippery slope of private influence on government.

There really is no moral to this tale except to show that red tape is fun for no one. In fact red tape can kill developments that we as planners try to push for. Is red tape necessary…I don’t know. But I can’t think of a better way of to regulate development…like a park. Anybody out there have any ideas?

And once again, thanks for reading!


Anonymous said...

The problem here is protectionism within agencies fragmented from one another, and all having conflicting interests. The planner is feared due to having actual knowledge of these varied subject matters (historic preservation, site planning, zoning, open space, etc.)

Heaven for bid the planner actually being able to do their JOB and make reasonable recommendations with respect to MULTIPLE agencies that would traditionally work internally amongst themselves!

Frustrating indeed!

Toure Zeigler said...

Heavan forbid indeed!

How dare a planner make a decision on behalf of another government agency!