Administering a code of ordinances can be time-consuming and expensive. Resources are needed to draft and revise the ordinance, respond to applicant questions, issue permits, and investigate and enforce violations. While most of these tasks are performed by staff, plan commission members and applicants also benefit from a clear understanding of the development review process.
Navigating the Development Review Process
Typically an applicant seeking a development permit will first contact the planning and zoning department to explain their plans and to obtain the necessary application materials. These materials should clearly describe the application process, submittal requirements and decision-making criteria. Many jurisdictions supply an example site plan and sample petition as part of the application packet. Staff can help to explain the application materials, the rationale behind the regulations, and any other applicable deadlines or requirements. In small communities, this function can be performed by a knowledgeable clerk, chairperson or administrator.
Once submitted, staff should review the application to identify missing or problematic information. The process should not proceed until the permit application and all related maps and plans are complete and accurate. Other specialists, such as engineers or natural resource specialists may be asked to assist in reviewing issues such as erosion control, stormwater management, delineation of ordinary high water marks, floodplains and wetlands, and restoration issues.
After an application is deemed complete, staff should schedule a public hearing on the matter and send out the required public notice. Most communities mail a copy of the application packet to the plan commission prior to the scheduled meeting or hearing. Some communities include a staff report which provides additional background information on the proposal and may include staff recommendations. Plan commission members should review the packet in advance to familiarize themselves with the proposal and to better prepare themselves for discussion and decision-making.
Staff reports provide the plan commission with critical information regarding relevant plans, ordinances, restrictions and site conditions on the property and neighboring properties. The plan commission and staff should decide together if it is appropriate to prepare staff reports and what they should include. Common components include:
- A summary of the applicant’s request.
- History of the site, including previous permits requested and granted.
- Relevant statements from the comprehensive plan and other community plans.
- Salient purpose statements and provisions from local ordinances.
- Relevant statutes and case law.
- Information from the site visit.
- Discussion of whether the proposal meets the standards.
- Staff recommendation to approve or deny the request and conditions that should be attached.