A city planning application is one of the first steps to getting your development project approved. This is a review of your development against state and local laws and often requires a presentation before a city planning commission.
The city planning commission meeting is an opportunity to get things off to the right start with the city and set your project up for acceptance by the city council. But, not all planning commission meetings run smoothly for the applicant. Applicants may not be familiar with certain rules or regulations or focus their proposal on the wrong aspects of their project. Consider the following ways you can ensure a successful planning commission meeting.
1) Know the Rules of Development
A major key to a successful planning commission presentation is knowing the criteria by which your project is being evaluated. Look for any checklists provided by the city for the planning commissions to use in their review and make sure you cover all the points in your presentation.
The more you know about the process, the higher your chances of getting support and approval. You may have an impressive proposal with a lot of good ideas, but, what will be most impressive to the planning commission is your knowledge of the laws governing your development. That’s their focus during the meeting, and it should be yours as well.
2) Get to the Point of Your Project
The purpose of the planning system is to ensure that all development is in the public interest. So the key focus of your presentation should revolve around that.
It’s easy to be excited about your project and want to share every little detail with the commission. Resist this urge. Instead, focus your remarks on the big ideas that most benefit the public.
Make your case as concise as possible to leave room at the end to field any questions from the commission. This is when your knowledge of the facts and understanding the laws that govern the commission can shine. When you’re able to thoroughly and honestly answer questions, it demonstrates you have considered the public interest and your project merits approval.
Remember, if you burn through all the time describing your project, you’ll miss out on the opportunity to answer more in-depth questions later. It’s key to your success that you leave yourself time to answer questions and resolve any concerns the commission may have.
3) Show Respect for All Participants
It’s no secret that local politics can get heated at times. It sounds obvious, but it can be difficult to be gracious during the meeting – especially when there is mounting opposition coming from a place of animosity.
This is especially true if your planning commission meeting is open to public comment, and you’re faced with personal attacks (trust us, we’ve seen it) from neighborhood residents who oppose your development project. Even when your project is completely supported by the law, disgruntled citizens can accuse you of being uncaring, greedy and corrupt.
It’s important not to get tangled up in the mire of these debates. The planning commission meeting is not the venue for for sorting out what laws should govern developments; it’s strictly for evaluating whether your project meets the current laws and ordinances. If your meeting gets heated like this, do your best to calmly reiterate to the commission members how your development meets meets all requirements. It’s the commission’s job to explain the application process to concerned citizens. Not yours.
However, you should remain willing and eager to respond to neighborhood residents’ concerns when appropriate. Sincere questions from informed community members can further help you demonstrate how your project is beneficial to the public. Listen intently to the comments, take notes, and mention how you and the design team will consider the advice. When you respond with patience and poise, you help attendees and the commissioners find more support for your project.
Validate the comments made by commission members and demonstrate your willingness to make revisions to your plans if need be. As you work out the details that will make your project approval-ready, you’re more likely to sure up a great recommendation from the planning commission.
4) Generate Support for Your Proposal
It’s often the most disgruntled neighbors who show up to these meetings. They can misrepresent the majority view, even if much of the community is in favor. Heavy opposition will most likely send you back to the drawing board for amendments to your plans, prolonging the process and delaying your project.
To help avoid this scenario, it’s beneficial to drum up support in advance to your planning commission presentation. Involve your design team, community members, or even a land use attorney. Invite them to attend the meeting and submit comments in favor of your plans.
Approval is ultimately in the hands of the commissioners, but it always helps to show evidence of public buy-in. Enthusiasm from community members in attendance demonstrates there is support from those who will be most affected by your project. Furthermore, it enhances the idea that your development serves the public’s best interest.
5) Help Your Audience Visualize the Project
The planning commission meeting is a great time to pull all the stops when it comes to visual aids. You want to paint a compelling picture of the project and highlight the ways it will improve the neighborhood.
It’s no longer good enough to show a site plan with vague details like a splash of green designating “open space.” This has been not-so-affectionately referred to as “green slime,” and it doesn’t earn you any points. Too many developers use this strategy to make nebulous promises in an attempt to appeal to the public. City planners and concerned citizens know better than to assume your plans for open space match the aspirations of the community.
Instead, you need to commit to some exciting details so that you can sell them on your project. Invest in 3D renderings of the space and don’t be afraid to show how desirable your project will be. Even consider implementing video to express the ways your project will benefit the community.
A Successful Planning Commission Meeting
Orchestrate a successful planning commission meeting by quickly and efficiently getting to the point of your project. Know the rules of development and show respect for all the meeting participants. Garner support by reaching out to community members and don’t be afraid to show them your vision for the future. Incorporate these elements and you’ll be on your way to a smoother planning application process and a great reception by the city council.