Community Development: What to Look for?
Community development, these communities contain a balanced mix of residential and commercial property and, within the commercial sector, a balanced mix of businesses that provide a tax base as well as serve the needs of residents.
Potential businesses will look for communities that have many resources and know-how to use them. Resilient cities also have grants and loans to assist existing businesses with building-façade makeovers and improved signage. Organized and grassroots support for local businesses, along with an active chamber of commerce and tourism board, can also help a community be resilient. When business owners create a strong network, they have a “deep well” of a variety of resources, including mentors and referrals. In addition, that network creates opportunities to cross-market business. When businesses work together, they all benefit, whether it’s from a sidewalk sale, charitable events, outdoor entertainment, or other special events.
However, as more and more municipal and business leaders work to build resilience into their communities, developers have more opportunities to choose where they place their projects. How can a community attract the best developers? The best person to ask is a developer. Arthur C. Zwemke leads the Robert Arthur Land Company and has more than 25 years of residential and commercial real estate experience. He served as the President of the Attainable Housing Alliance, Board member of the Home Builders Association of Fox Valley and Northern Illinois, Chair of the LD4 NAHB Developer 20 Club, Chairman of the Plano Economic Development Corporation, Chairman of the Hampshire Area Chamber of Commerce and member of the Advisory Committee to the Chicago School of Real Estate at Roosevelt University.
Zwemke says one of the most important factors when choosing a community, besides market demand, is ready and affordable access to water and sewer.
“It sounds so simple, but it is not in many cases,” Said Zwemke. “Some towns were able to expand capacity before the downturn, but have raised the tap fees so high to cover debt service, it is no longer economically feasible.”
Finding funding for water and sewer projects that do not rely on adding enormous amounts of debt is not difficult. A consultant can find federal or state programs designed to restore vital infrastructure projects especially those related to clean drinking water. Nationally, The Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA) provides $12.3 billion over 10 years for water, sewer, and inland waterway projects. States also have their own initiatives that can be used in conjunction with national grants.
Many developers are constrained by firm deadlines and tight budgets and don’t have time to deal with uncertainty and unclear regulations. While developers don’t like to wait for city staff and council to make the necessary zoning or code changes that they need to facilitate the development of a project, Zwemke says leaders need to be realistic and thoughtful about long-range planning.
“Leaders need to be clear about what they want developed, where, and that it is economically feasible. So many times, comprehensive plans envision development that is not likely in any reasonable time frame,” Zwemke says.
Moving efficiently through a municipality’s approval process is very important. Rules and requirements need to be clearly communicated and not subject to change. “Empower the staff to honestly express their opinion,” Zwemke advises “Some staff do not want to ruffle the feathers of a trustee or mayor so they list all their concerns, but rarely endorse a development and highlight the short-term and long-term benefits. They are professionally trained and their opinions should be valued.”
[pullquote]To ensure timely and professional plan review and inspections local leaders may need to perform organizational reviews or partner with private sector firms who employ experts in these fields and can respond quickly and efficiently as needed.[/pullquote]In a document on being more developer-friendly, the County of San Bernardino, California echoes Zwemke’s comments, “Work with the planning commission and city council to develop the necessary policies to identify what and when decisions can be made by staff and when they need to come before commission or council.”
The entire process does need to work as a partnership and developers can help communities during the approval process by anticipating the questions and concerns and being prepared to show the development’s benefit to the community Zwemke adds. The longer the approval process, the higher the cost to a developer because of more time, extension fees, etc. If the approval process is too cumbersome, they will just walk away.
San Bernardino officials agree to say that the development community desires a process that is consistent and quick. A representative from the home building industry stated at a recent development processing workshop that, “…many development projects struggle to reach the return on investment threshold outlined by the financial pro forma. The quicker a project can be entitled and permitted, the more profitable a project will be. For the housing industry to recover, the approval process must be significantly faster.”
The use of technology can help speed up the process. San Bernardino County has introduced a new web-based platform for the submission of building plans. The program, known as “e-Plan,” allows for the online submission, review, and approval of building plans and supporting studies.
Making sure adequate staff is on hand to perform plan review and inspections, once construction of new projects begin, is important for local governments. During the recession, many municipalities were forced to trim staff. To ensure timely and professional plan review and inspections local leaders may need to perform organizational reviews or partner with private sector firms who employ experts in these fields and can respond quickly and efficiently as needed.
Community leaders also need to have an idea of the economics when thinking about residential development.
“If they want the local school teacher, police or fireman to live in their town, average their wages, multiple by three to determine what amount of house that they can afford and then determine if their standards and fees (including all jurisdictions, not just their own) can be absorbed in the price of the home,” Zwemke advises.
Resilience helps communities and regions build diverse, prosperous economies by enhancing the quality of place; advancing effective job creation strategies; reducing housing, transportation, and energy consumption costs; promoting clean energy solutions; and creating economic opportunities for residents. Building a resilient community is not easy and requires expertise, patience, and dedication.
At HR Green 78% of our staff in Governmental Services business line have been employed in the public sector and have an average of 18 years of experience in the arena. They were City Managers, Finance Directors, City Engineers, Building Officials, Public Works Directors and worked for various Departments in state government. Our staff has walked in your shoes and can be trusted to professionally deliver services to your constituents.
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