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Three Ways to Set Your Projects Up for Municipal Approval Success

May 11th, 2021

When not executed successfully, the municipal approval process can make projects time-consuming, expensive, and inefficient. The process is intricate and involves participation from a wide variety of professionals, including architects, landscape architects, civil engineers, site planners, attorneys, environmental consultants, surveyors, title companies, lenders, traffic engineers, general contractors, and subcontractors. By utilizing a consultant such as Galloway with extensive experience in development services and a refined process, a project can generally move smoothly through municipal approvals, potentially saving time, saving money and minimizing rework. While every project is unique, using the following steps as a guide could help overcome the most common challenges that arise.

Three Ways to Set Your Projects Up for Municipal Approval Success

Step 1: Make a Playbook for Development

Initial Site Investigation

Often, projects are a balancing act – do the anticipated future benefits outweigh the expected future costs? When looking at a proposed development, that’s where a site investigation report, or SIR, comes in.

A key step of the Galloway process is utilizing our Full-Spectrum Approach, which brings together all in-house engineering and architecture-related disciplines to gain a comprehensive understanding of the project for the SIR. An effective examination provides the developer with full confidence that the project is feasible.

An SIR collects the data/questions that are necessary to discover and analyze potential issues with a new development site. It also prompts what will need to be done in order to meet all requirements. These reports provide the technical information required to accurately prepare design and construction documents through the review and approval process.

Upfront due diligence pushes the project team to identify potential problems at the beginning of a project, which could help avoid future project pitfalls and minimize detrimental challenges that might arise if unlooked for. The SIR will also help determine what approvals will need to be considered and what kinds of activities need to be planned for.

Approvals Process

Once the SIR is complete, it is important to next understand what the approvals process will look like. Navigating a course through the often complex approvals process is a fundamental step in advancing a project and securing long-term value for the property. If your site needs rezoning, annexation, general plan amendment, minor variance approval, conditional use permit, site plan control approval, or any other entitlements, you’ll need to know every step required to secure these approvals. By taking a proactive approach to planning for the complete approvals process, you can minimize development constraints – potentially resulting in faster approvals and lower design/construction costs.

Public Hearings

During the SIR, the process for public hearings and neighborhood meetings will be clearly defined. Local governments are sometimes required by state law to hold public hearings. The issues addressed in these public hearings can be contentious, may involve due process rights of private parties, and can generate litigation, so it is important to know and follow proper hearing procedures. The Galloway team brings a strong understanding of how to properly prepare for these hearings and have developed strategies that can help mitigate contentious issues in advance of these hearings. No land-use decision will please every community member or every property owner; Galloway’s team knows how to assess and balance the competing positions of neighbors of the project, developers, agencies, and other stakeholders.

Our team is experienced in meeting with surrounding property owners, stakeholders, interest groups, home-owners associations, and various appointed and elected officials through a variety of meeting formats to help gain buy-in and understanding for your project.  Whether serving as subject matter experts or preparing the graphics and presentation for the public hearing or neighborhood meeting, the Galloway team can be a great resource to help you prepare for and facilitate a successful meeting.

Three Ways to Set Your Projects Up for Municipal Approval Success

Step 2: Set the Stage with Pre-Application Meetings

As part of the initial investigation process, the next step is to conduct a pre-application meeting. While not always required, Galloway has found that having a pre-application meeting with the municipality is paramount to a project successfully navigating the municipal approval process. The SIR is a good tool to use while preparing for a pre-application meeting, as it helps the team develop a solid understanding of the code and anticipated process in advance of the meeting.

The purpose of the pre-application meeting is to make sure that all parties understand the process and thus make the processing more efficient. It is also a chance to establish a relationship with the reviewing authorities and get early, preliminary feedback from city staff regarding the project. The pre-application meeting also allows the team to confirm our preliminary findings in the SIR. At the conclusion of the meeting, it will be clear exactly what is needed to file the application and what the review process will entail. This can save significant time, as well as cost, later in the process since the city or county will not have to send the application back for additional material or clarifications/amendments.

The pre-application meeting also brings value through allowing for the discovery of potential project impacts that initial research and investigation cannot produce. This could include information on zoning updates the municipality plans on rolling out in the near future, application submission and processing updates based on COVID-19 restrictions, land use code updates, or changes in building permit fees based on the fiscal year.

A well-planned pre-application meeting will help discover aspects that can impact schedule and budget and allow for the project team to quickly understand how to best take advantage of all possible information. Schedules, timing and sequencing of the entitlement process are covered during the pre-application meeting, which is a critical step to making sure your project can meet contractual deadlines. The result is a better understanding of the regulatory and political details required to draft a comprehensive entitlement roadmap that clearly lays out next steps. Moreover, should additional or more detailed information be needed later in the review cycle, particularly for more involved projects, you will already have a key understanding of what is required and will be better able to plan for having these materials prepared.

Three Ways to Set Your Projects Up for Municipal Approval Success

Step 3: Start Strong with Collaborative Kick-Off Meetings

When done correctly, the project kick-off meeting can contribute enormously to the success of the project itself. Done poorly, the project kick-off meeting can destroy any chance of success before the project has even started. So what makes a good project kick-off or a bad one?

A project’s direction is grounded in how it begins, which is why Galloway focuses on having an integrated and comprehensive kick-off meeting. The project kick-off meeting is an opportunity to establish common goals and purpose in completing the work, resulting in a fully aligned team working towards your project vision. Our internal kick-off meetings are structured to include the following:

Applying a Full-Spectrum Approach means that representatives from every applicable discipline are present to weigh in on challenges, opportunities, and risks. From survey to land planning, civil engineering and comprehensive architectural design, Galloway’s team is able to approach the kick-off meeting with a multidisciplinary mindset that looks at the integration across these services and potential phases. During the kick-off meeting, our team assesses the project from the viewpoint of multiple disciplines and then provides proactive ideas and solutions, to help align with your timeline and capture your vision.

For external kick-off meetings that include attendees outside of the Galloway team, we ensure that the above topics are covered so that clear roles, responsibilities, expectations, deadlines, and budget are understood by all. Discussing in detail the scope of work, project goals, and context of the project area together allows for an achievable set of expectations and objectives to be set.

Setting clear expectations upfront, and having a plan to overcome potential challenges, means that you are better prepared for whatever may occur during your project. Whether it is due diligence needing to be completed within a certain period of time, a requirement for governmental approvals to be achieved within a certain time frame, or understanding the financial ramifications of missed deadlines, our team becomes your development partner by having a deeper understanding of the project as a whole, not just the design aspects.

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