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Thoughts From the American Planning Association’s National Conference in Chicago

I’m currently wrapping up a great weekend at the American Planning Association’s (APA) National Planning Conference in Chicago, Illinois. For the MCL Blog readers unfamiliar with this event, the APA hosts an annual development conference for planning professionals and representatives from communities all over the United States. The five-day conference offers seminars on a broad range of topics, from common planning problems like the use of economic development incentives, to some unique regional issues, such as whether roosters and goats should be allowed under a city’s urban agriculture ordinance.  (Think Portland!)

I always leave this conference inspired by the professionals’ ideas and passion for community improvement, and this year my takeaway is that all projects should involve planning decisions at the local level.  This is true even if the project is an approved use and the owner is just pulling a building permit. Most of the projects I work on usually involve more than just pulling a building permit (or I wouldn’t be involved) but to be fair, my point is that many people are involved with shaping our built environment.  Many of the people participating in local planning decisions are regular citizens volunteering their time to develop a vision of how they want their community developed.

As both a planning commissioner and representative of owners, developers, and contractors, I believe it is of utmost importance that those involved in a project contact the neighborhood group where the project is located. This simple step will likely expedite the approval process and promote fairness for all parties involved. Too often, I have seen owners appear before governing bodies only to have their projects delayed or denied because the neighborhood group voices concerns that could have been addressed prior to the hearing.

Simple steps like attending a neighborhood meeting can go a long way when it comes to facilitating community buy-in for projects, and taking this action may ultimately help an owner achieve project approval.