Sunday, February 12, 2006

Making ED Easier

“It seems fairly common for developers to secure a piece of land, submit some plans, and then quickly threaten lawsuits to ‘bully’ their way to a quick permit,” was how Steve Weitzner worded a question on an ED list serve that I receive. It is a complaint that I’ve heard often in my travels, but the response from Karen Goldner was the best that I’ve heard to this issue.

“I think that the thing that drives most developers the craziest is unclear rules, staff who cannot clearly explain “A to Z” (i.e., there are lots of “gotchas” that pop up), and an attitude by zoning staff of “my way or the highway.” Look at your land use process from the point of view of a private citizen.”

“The best example I could ever find to explain to the land use people I worked with (when I was in economic development for our city government) was to think about how they felt dealing with insurance companies. How does it feel to deal with someone who has enormous power over you, operates in a system that you don’t understand, is seemingly arbitrary in his/her decisions, can decide to make your life miserable if he/she wants, and you are more or less helpless in dealing with them? In my experience, zoning people simply don’t get that this is how they are perceived by most businesspeople.”

“So my advice is that if your zoning folks can be convinced to clean up some of these problems (clear, written procedures; an attitude of “let’s figure out how to get this done right” rather than “to heck with you,” etc.) you will find that much of the hostility disappears. It’s like bedside manner and doctors being sued for malpractice.”

“A spoonful of honey, along with making the pill no larger than it needs to be, goes a long way.”

I couldn’t have said it any better myself.

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