The Norman Transcript

January 4, 2013

City leaders looking to improve development process

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — In an attempt to become more business and development friendly, city leaders are looking at ways to streamline the development process in Norman. Compared to development timelines in other cities throughout the metro, some Norman processes currently take the longest.

Rezoning takes approximately 60 days in Moore and Edmond, 106 days in Oklahoma City and between 107 and 115 days in Norman. The preliminary plat process takes 46 days in OKC, 60 days in Edmond and Moore and about 87 days in Norman.

While Norman does not trail the pack on timeliness for getting the final plat to the planning commission or planned unit developments (PUDs), the city council and city staff believe there are ways to improve the process to better serve the city’s development customers.

The city council’s Business and Community Affairs committee is working with staff on options for streamlining the platting process, including 1) extending the life of preliminary plats from three years to five years and adding an administrative plat extension process; 2) making the review and approval of final plats come directly to the city council rather than going through the planning commission again; and 3) coordinating and condensing the timeline to allow for applications to be made concurrently with predevelopment meetings.

Extending the life of preliminary plats from three years to five years and adding an administrative plat extension process had consensus support at the Business and Community Affairs meeting Thursday morning. Discussion revolved around charges for the extension, which council members said should reflect fair payment for city staff time, without burdening developers.

Other discussion focused on the definition of  “substantial changes” in guidelines. Attorney Harold Heiple expressed concern about that language.

“There always has to be a little bit of flexibility for the staff and the developer to work together,” said Terry Floyd, the city’s development coordinator.

Floyd said making the review and approval of final plats come directly to the city council rather than going through the planning commission again would be the biggest time saver in the proposed changes.

“The intense vetting of the project comes at the preliminary plat level,” Floyd said.

The final plat will be reviewed by the city’s development team before coming before the city council for approval.

Coordinating and condensing the timeline to allow for applications to be made concurrently with predevelopment meetings is another measure to help streamline the process.

Currently, developers must have a predevelopment meeting with staff and any affected neighbors and with the Greenbelt Commission before other paperwork can be filed. While the order of that process cannot be changed, the timeline can be compressed, staff and council members said.

“The ability to condense a schedule — not to skip a step, I want to be very clear about that — is the difference between a project being viable or being scrapped in this community,” Chamber of Commerce President John Woods said. “Anything you can do that decreases that schedule by 15 days or 30 days is very helpful.”

Council member Chad Williams was adamant that the process needs to be simplified to the extent possible.

“It’s a huge machine, and I’ve been through it a couple of times, and it’s not easy,” Williams said.

Business and Community Affairs chair and council member Linda Lockett suggested a checklist to make the process easier for businesses and developers who are new to Norman.

“What you’re discussing here is not unique to Norman,” city engineer Scott Sturtz said. “I’ve worked in six states. This is not a unique situation.”

Council member Robert Castleberry said streamlining would give Norman a competitive advantage.

“I support efforts to make our development process more clear and effective,” council member Greg Jungman said. ”Everybody wins when the process is easy to understand and navigate. I do not support rule changes that place additional burdens on city staff or the public.”