All over the country there are goodhearted people legitimately concerned about a shortage of housing. Meanwhile, developers have both commercial and residential projects lined up and waiting in the wings. In so many cases, construction projects cannot move forward in a timely manner because of what is arguably the biggest hurdle to overcome: government.
Among the many government entities that tend to get in the way, few are as difficult as the local planning commission. Planning commissioners are tasked with ensuring that new commercial and residential development is in line with existing regulations. They deal with things like zoning, parking, traffic congestion, etc.
No doubt that planning commissions mean well. They have an exceedingly difficult job to do. But commissions are almost always made up of individuals with very little knowledge in construction, architecture, and engineering. They create problems for builders and developers by assuming to know the construction business inside and out – and dictating to builders and developers accordingly.
A New Utah Ski Resort
The developers of a new ski resort in Park City, Utah have been struggling to get their project past the local planning commission. According to a recent report from KPCW radio, the developer has submitted multiple renderings of the project to help commissioners understand what it will look like and how it will operate. Commissioners have consistently raised concerns.
Most recently, some commissioners have been concerned that the resort operator does not have an adequate plan in place to facilitate guest drop-off and pick-up at the busiest times. One commissioner believes the drop-off/pickup zone is too small and that it will not be operated for an adequate amount of time in the morning. She worries about traffic congestion.
The resort operator’s perspective is different. Operating multiple successful resorts around the country, the operator believes its plan is adequate. Similar strategies are employed at their other resorts without issue. The question is, does the resort operator know better than commission members?
Codes, Inspections, Etc.
Planning commissions do not just cause problems for commercial development. Even residential development can be hampered by unsatisfied commissioners. Park City architects Sparano + Mooney say planning commission difficulties are more likely to occur when a developer wants to turn a large tract of land into an entire neighborhood of single-family homes. There are fewer problems when building a single home on a single piece of land.
Even without planning commission troubles though, builders and architects are constantly wading through a river of code enforcement issues, local inspections, and so forth. Local zoning can be an issue as well. If a buyer wants to obtain a piece of land zoned for light commercial or industrial use, they may have to jump through a number of hoops to build a vacation home on it.
Necessary but Limited
In their defense, planning commissions are necessary to ensure that local development doesn’t get out of control. Leaving development to chance always carries the risk of ending up with a chaotic mix of residential, commercial, and industrial properties. Unmanaged development also creates traffic and infrastructure problems.
At the same time, planning commissions are naturally limited by their lack of construction and development expertise. It is unfortunate when commissioners behave as though they know more about the construction industry than those who make their living at it.
Planning commissions are not going away. They will continue doing what they can to keep local development in check. And as long as they do, there will be ongoing construction delays while developers seek to satisfy all concerns local planning commissioners bring to their monthly meetings.