Pre-Application Meetings

Dear Management Doctor,

Hope all is well with you and your travels!  I am writing to ask if you or your team could suggest a city you have worked with that has best practices regarding applicant pre-meetings or pre-development consultations? As you know, one of our recommended improvements is to the City’s Development Assistance Team (DAT) process. At your convenience please let me know of any thoughts on this matter.

As we close in on the 30-day mark in our service improvement implementation program, we hope to meet our goal of implementing 39 recommendations. We will keep you posted.

Thank you again for all your assistance to our department.

Regards


To Pre-Application,

Good question but not an easy answer. Virtually all of our clients have the same problems with pre-application including:

  • The people conducting the pre-application know only part of the story, often the planners do these and they are not fully aware of building and engineering issues.
  • Members may come late to the meeting.
  • Members come to the meeting unprepared.
  • Those in attendance are at too low a level with no decision authority.
  • The findings from the pre-app don’t get to people actually processing the permit.
  • Suggestions or agreements from the pre-app are not accepted by other staff.
  • Findings from the pre-app are not memorialized.

In 2001, I did a study for Henderson, Nevada who I felt had a good pre-app at that point in time. I’m not certain if they still do, the City has undergone many changes since then.

The City of San Diego had (not certain if they still do) a system where you could pay around $1,000 for a pre-app and they would document findings in writing and agree to stay with the findings for one year. I used this process in a difficult project I was doing and it was great.

I hope some of our emailers will toot their own horn and give us their good ideas.

the Management Doctor


Reader Responses

This email is in response to your Management Doctor inquiry on Pre-Application Meetings distributed on September 2, 2014:

Here at the City of Loveland, Colorado we view the Pre-Application process as a crucial first step in the development review process. The Pre-App is often the applicant’s first contact with City government and with the City development review process, so we work to make the experience positive, meaningful and helpful to the applicant and their team. The process often establishes the tenor of future interactions between the applicant’s team and city staff. The process also has a bearing on the quality/completeness of the first submittal. With these and similar factors in mind, here’s how we run the process:

  1. The process is free of charge. We call it the “Concept Review Process.”
  2. Applicants are required to fill out a simple but useful application and submit it to the Planning office in order to reserve a meeting slot. The submittal can be made electronically or hard copy.
  3. The completed application goes through a quick check-in process by the City’s “Concept Review Team” for content.
  4. We conduct three Concept Review meetings each week, assigning applications to one of three 45-minute time slots. The slots are available on a first come, first served basis.
  5. Applicants are informed by email once they are assigned a meeting date and time slot.
  6. A few days prior to the meeting, the assigned planner calls the applicant to remind them of the meeting, find out if they have any questions or comments not indicated on the application form, and to get a sense of the applicant’s level of experience/understanding of the project/process they are inquiring about.
  7. The project planner informs other members of the “Concept Review Team” of this conversation at a weekly review meeting the day prior to the Concept Review meeting. At this meeting, reviewers indicate the comments that they plan to make at the Concept Review meeting so there are no inconsistencies or conflicts with the City’s responses. We also work to tailor the comments (especially the verbal comments) to the applicant’s experience level.
  8. The Concept Review Team includes reviewers from the various offices involved in development review. The reviewers are the ranking reviewers from their respective offices. Offices include: Current Planning, Transportation Review, Stormwater, Water/Waste Water, Electrical Power, and Fire. The Building, Parks, Economic Development, and Long Range Planning offices attend when applicable.
  9. Reviewers provide written comments and verbal comments at the Concept Review meeting. We work to problem solve and identify options when appropriate.
  10. Reviewers also let applicants know, in a general way, about processing timelines; we also let them know about obtaining a fee estimate for their project—since many fees are collected at the building permit level (including impact fees) and we don’t want applicants to have large, unanticipated fee payments due towards the end of the City’s permitting process.
  11. After the Concept Review meeting, the project planner spends a few minutes or more with the applicant and their team to make sure they understood the comments and to see if they have any lingering questions.
  12. All applicants are offered the opportunity to have one or more follow-up meetings in order to resolve issues. The follow up meetings are free but do not involve written comments from the City reviewers.

Please feel free to share this information—some of what we do was in response to ideas presented and discussed in your Planning Director webinar series last fall!

Bob Paulsen, AICP


Thank you for asking the question about pre-apps. I enjoyed reading the responses, and the discussion made me think of another question. Here’s the background:

The city I work for requires pre-apps for most types of land use approvals. The purpose, format, and deliverables of the pre-app are similar to what others have described.  What is different is that a representative (typically a board member) of the City-recognized neighborhood association in which the project is located is invited to the pre-app.

A NA reps must receive training from planning staff before they are eligible to attend a pre-app; the training covers the purpose of pre-apps, which of course is to assist the applicant in understanding city requirements (the applicant pays a fee for the service), and how to constructively participate in the meeting. For most types of proposals city also requires applicants to meet with neighbors before submitting an application.

In my experience I have not come across any other jurisdiction that does pre-apps this way — have you or your readers?

Thank you for all the good work that you do.

Scot Siegel, President
Siegel Planning Services, LLC


You should review Texas permit vesting law as it applies to pre-application meetings. Under Chapter 245, Local Government Code, a pre-application meeting would likely freeze all regulations pertaining to the development of the project. I suggest that you consult with attorneys familiar with this statute. There are some precautionary steps that can be taken to lessen the likelihood of a vesting claim, but I’m not certain they have been fully tested.

Frank F. Turner
Plano, TX


This is almost exactly the process we use in Grandview, Missouri.  I hope this is used by many other organizations across the country as we have found it beneficial for the applicant and staff alike.

Chris Chiodini, EIT, AICP
City of Grandview, Missouri

– See more at: http://zuckersystems.com/category/questions-for-management-doctor/#sthash.mOUaa4wH.dpuf


 

At the City of Gulfport (we’re the other Gulfport….Florida!), we encourage pre-application meetings as part of their planning and zoning application or application for a variance. As part of their application package, the pre-application meeting is the first item on the first page of the application packet. Most applicants will ask for one, depending upon the complexity of what the project being requested involves.

We find that most pre-application meetings focus on land use and zoning issues. The Building Division will also get involved if required. The Building Official will listen to the applicant explain what the project is, and the Building Official will let the applicant know what is required from a building permit application point of view. Sometimes the applicant will have building plans ready to be submitted with their planning and zoning, or variance application. The Building Official will perform a cursory review to ensure that nothing major has been overlooked. The in-depth review of the plans will be performed at the building permit application process.

All pre-applications are prefaced with the statement that the finding in the pre-application may change based on the information/plans currently presented versus the information/plans submitted with the application. All applicants know up-front that if further information is required as a result of the upcoming detailed plan review, all identified issues must be resolved prior to submitting the application packet to the appropriate city board.

All planning and zoning applications are reviewed by the City’s Site Plan Review Committee. This is a formal city review board with formalized meeting (complete with recorded minutes). At the end of the meeting, comment sheets are collected from each committee member. If members cannot be present, the comment sheets are still collected. All comments are then presented to the applicant to revise the plans to be submitted with the application. If the revisions meet all Committee comments, then the application will be further processed with recommendation of approval from the Committee.

Below are links to copies of our applications with the pre-application meeting included as part of the application process (as shown on the first page of each application).

Planning Zoning App
2014 Variance App

Michael Taylor


Here is the form we use during our pre-application meetings with applicants. This form is typed up at the end of the meeting and an email copy is provided to the applicant. Many times we have additional follow-up meetings and we can update this information for each additional meeting. We log each meeting into our tracking system so that all planners and reviewers (public works, parks and Recs, utility staff, legal, development services and fire) have access to the information as well.

Sandra L. Day, AICP
City/County Planner

Click here to see the form


http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/ap/index.shtml

The Pre-Application Statement (PAS) and Interdivisional Meeting that NYC DCP has developed is really helpful. Having all the players in the room to hear what everyone is saying has increased accountability.


Hello!

I suggest contacting the Baltimore Planning Department and Fairfax County Department of Planning.

Arthur Jackson
DC Office of Planning


The City of Bellevue has been doing pre-application conferences for decades. We also provide a written summary of our conclusions and recommendations. If you would like to refer this person to me, we can share our experience.

Carol Helland
Land Use Director


My interest is peaked in reading this.

For what it’s worth, Stillwater, Oklahoma, prides itself on having a user-friendly and productive pre-application meeting program. We have one point of contact to coordinate the pre-app meeting between the various city staff and the applicant/engineer/architect/surveyor/financer/etc. We hold the meetings at City Hall; have the room with TV, internet, conference phone, and GIS available. Our typical meetings last one hour unless the project is massive or atypical. We have a “checklist” of items to discuss; provide every member with a summary of the meeting on a pre-established form.

City staff invited include: Development Services (building, fire, planning, engineering, stormwater), water/sewer, fire department, 911, electric, economic development, GIS and – on occasion – Chamber & school district. One way we ensure that everyone is on the same page is that Development Services Department is the responsible department for all development projects. City administrators & City Manager reinforce that responsibility to other departments. This keeps the lack of agreement down to a minimum (although we so enjoy being human on occasion!)

We purposefully discuss current building codes, inspections, land use processes, time frames, costs, and areas of responsibility. This process we have established is appreciated by many and applicants vocalize such to us.

On a side note: I enjoy your site, articles & cartoons. Keep shaking the reality stick for us planners!

Paula J. Dennison, AICP
Development Services Director


Good afternoon,

Through the Planning Department with the City of Wylie, the Development Issues Review Team (DIRT) which includes, but not limited to, the City Planner, City Engineer, City Manager, Public Works Director, Fire Chief/Marshall, Police Chief, and Parks Director conducts the pre-application meeting. In this pre-application meeting we encourage the applicant to submit a draft concept plan, questions, etc. prior to the meeting in an effort for staff to be better prepared during the meeting to assist them. Other representatives who are part of DIRT include the North Texas Municipal Water District and the Wylie Independent School District.

Because Staff has this time blocked for Thursday mornings, it is very seldom that we have members missing. In the event the designated staff member is out, another representative from that department is present.

Feel free to contact me for additional information if needed.

Thank you,
Renae’ Ollie, MCP
Director of Development Services


Nice…blame the planners. As a planner and a landscape architect who has been involved with construction since 1980, I can tell you the problems seem to be 2-fold:
After zoning and architectural approvals the GC/architect/homeowner wants to lower the cost of the project by cheapening/eliminating items, and
The majority of problems we have are when the GC does not know/control the subs work.
It takes a great GC and subs to get the buildings into the ground per plan.

We usually do not have problems in the permit approval process, but we do in the construction process.

Why exactly did you send this e-mail?

Linnea O’Neill, AICP, RLA


City of Lee’s Summit, Missouri does pre-apps every Wednesday morning and are scheduled through our Development Center. They involve PW, Water Utilities, Planning, Codes and Fire. Police and Parks send a rep if the issue is of interest to them. We assign a development center project manager to each applicant who then is their main contact person. All correspondence and communication is funneled through the project manager. Once an application is received, the team meets to do a completeness check, Development Review Committee (staff only) then send out responses to the application to the design professional and their team, after that we have an applicant’s meeting to discuss person to person any outstanding issues from them or us and schedule the public hearings or finalize administrative reviews if no hearing required. This has worked well for us and we have received compliments from applicant’s on our process which is almost unheard of t hese days. Hope this helps.

Bob McKay, AICP
Director of Planning and Development


The key to a meaningful pre-app is to have the right people there. We ask that the applicant email in a concept plan a week prior, and distribute it to the staff attendees. Our pre-apps always include planners, including the Planning and Zoning Manager, engineers, and building safety staff. Meeting notes are taken and distributed to the applicant and staff a few days later. And, of course, the meetings are at no cost. They help prepare the applicant and staff to do a better job in the review process.

Sarah S. More, FAICP
Planning and Building Director


Hi All,

In Lynden, our pre-application meetings are conducted by our Technical Review Committee which includes Planning, Public Works, Fire and Parks. If it is particular to a building, we will ask our Building Official to attend. The meeting is free of charge, but the applicant signs an application stating that they understand that the TRC is reviewing what they provided and is not a guarantee of approval, nor is it to be considered the final list of conditions. The meetings are regularly scheduled and we have good staff that attend the meetings prepared.

Amy Harksell
Planning Director

Click here to view the request form.


I’m the Planning Manager here at the City of Henderson and we still have a pre-application process through what we call at Concept Plan Review (CPR). The CPR is scheduled for our Staff Review Committee that includes all development related departments in the discussion. I’d be happy to provide information or even host some folks who want to observe our process.

Michael Tassi


We offer these as a free service. It seems to be beneficial to developers and staff; identifies issues prior to official submittal.

Tom Martin, AICP
City Planner