FORT WAYNE – City and county officials continued their efforts Monday to align their laws governing how property can be used and the processes to ask for changes.
In the last five years, Allen County and the City of Fort Wayne have developed a joint comprehensive plan and a joint planning department.
But making the two truly become one – officials believe that would make it vastly easier to do business here – is a big task, forcing decisions on topics such as how wide sidewalks should be and whether proposals should be voted on right after a public hearing or at a separate meeting, as they are now.
In addition, officials are using the ongoing effort as a chance to streamline the permit approval process. The goal is to encourage economic development, so when a developer wants to build a store in an area already zoned for that use, the effort shouldnt be delayed by unnecessary steps.
Helping officials in the process is Don Elliott, a consultant for Clarion Associates. Fort Wayne and Allen County officials hired Clarion for $169,760 in December to help align and streamline permitting legislation. They also hired Briljent LLC as project manager for $285,420 to oversee the entire process.
Monday, the group spent almost two hours discussing development plans, the set rules developers are given that govern aspects such as screening, lighting and where parking will be permitted.
This is a big deal, Elliott said. Changing the way the city and county deal with development plans could have a big effect on the business climate in Fort Wayne and Allen County.
Elliot suggested the process be streamlined by putting development standards into the ordinance, so that for each district there are things such as a required amount of screening or certain set-backs, rather than forcing each one to go through the process where the plan commission deals with them on a case-by-case basis.
Instead, they would go through an administrative review by staff, who would decide whether the plan meets the standard or not.
Elliot also warned that there would be trade-offs.
The public likes public hearings, likes the chance to stand up and be heard, Elliott said. But the trade-off is it takes more time and expense.
He said its better to have clear, objective standards written into the law, leaving no room for discretion, then letting the staff handle those.
Otherwise, frankly, its misleading, Elliott said. If the public is being invited to comment, it should be because the code leaves some discretion.
Large, complex plans, plans that require re-zoning, those that involve multiple buildings or multiple lots, those involving phases of infrastructure construction, should all still go through the hearing process, he said.
City and county plan commission members seemed amenable to the ideas but worried about Elliotts suggestion that they require complete applications before moving forward. Currently, projects that havent yet completed a stormwater plan or a landscaping plan can still move forward; officials said they fear that if they stop allowing that, developers will use political pressure to change the rule or get an exception.
You say, No, your applications not complete, and it doesnt take much imagination to know what happens next, attorney Bob Eherenman said. Theres calls to City Council, theres calls to county commissioners: My projects not being put on the agenda.
Elliott said the city and county will have to educate developers so theyre prepared, but also so they understand that they get something, too – a more streamlined process that tells them upfront what they need to do and gets them through it faster.
He noted that both city and county staff have told him that out-of-town developers dont have a problem submitting complete applications, rather, it is local developers who are used to submitting things late.