Pre-development meetings can improve the overall efficiency of the site plan review process

Site plan reviews for local communities can be improved by adding pre-development meetings. These meetings allow developers to address important issues before plan submittal.

The site plan review process and the various steps are found in local zoning codes. This process is very detailed in most codes because the process must identify those items and issues that are to be reviewed. Items that may be a part of a checklist review must be in the zoning code. Items that are a part of a “checklist” but are not listed in the zoning code may be difficult to enforce unless the use is a special land use, which provides an expanded review of what may be required in an effort to mitigate negative impacts. In short, if the requirement is reasonable and is needed to verify compliance, then it should be clearly listed in the zoning code. Furthermore, to make the process more efficient, smart communities allow pre-development meetings to help improve the review process.

Pre-development meetings are generally requested by the developer, and for larger or more complicated projects, the city planner or building department representative will request a per-development meeting (usually at no costs to the developer). These meetings allow the developer to meet with various local public and private reviewers of the site plan. They often include the local planner, the building department representative, the public works representative, fire and police representatives and the city engineer or their representative. Some processes may include the local attorney. The list of local participants can vary from community to community, but the goal is to assemble all those individuals who will be reviewing the plan when it is formally submitted to the local municipality. A very preliminary site plan is used to discuss potential concerns from the various reviewers. When done correctly, this review will address significant issues and allow the developer to make the necessary changes and modifications before the formal submittal to the local unit if government.

Many communities charge a fee for the service but some do not. According to Michigan State University Extension, the fee is an excellent way to recoup costs associated with local staff participation, and because the meeting will require participants to conduct a preliminary review of the plan which will require attendance at the meeting. Pre-development meetings improve and reduce the time of the overall review and provide the developer with vital information before additional monies are spent finalizing plans for the formal submittal. The developer walks away from the meeting with a clear understanding of what needs to be done and what will be required. This is one of those rare opportunities where everyone has the opportunity to benefit from a clear understanding of what is needed for a specific project. For many developers, the pre-development meeting is definitely worth the financial resources invested in such a process. 

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