In a time where nearly every project has an “aggressive” schedule, an informal/informational meeting with the city or town’s planning department is a good idea.

The Internet and grass-roots neighborhood activism have boosted public impact on private and public projects. A big part of the approvals process is the site plan, according to Debra Axelrood, a planning professional with HarleyEllis. In a time where nearly every project has an “aggressive” schedule, an informal/informational meeting with the city or town’s planning department is a good idea, she says. “Is the approval process completed in a single phase? Or is it a multi-step process? Do minor changes require planning commission approval or are there provisions for administrative approval?” Axelrood asks. “Are schematic level plans appropriate, or are complete engineered drawings required at time of submittal?”

At the very least, the following issues/questions should be discussed or better, nailed down during the informal meeting:

  • Reach consensus on the local political climate

  • Identify red flags likely to impact the process

  • Define the approval process, both preliminary and final plan approval

  • Understand timeframe and impact on project schedule

  • Understand fees

  • Obtain checklist and applications

  • Possible variances

  • Special-use permits

  • Items that can be handled administratively, as opposed to at public meetings

  • City/Town council board approval requirements

  • Additional approval requirements and unique ordinances

  • Master plan requirements that relate to the project