Nov 28, 2023 - News

Phoenix seeks input to improve planning and development process for builders

Illustration of a hammer wrapped in red tape.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

If you're in the building and development business and you've got ideas about how the city of Phoenix can make the process easier, the Planning and Development Department wants to hear from you.

Driving the news: The department on Monday held the first of four planned listening sessions to get feedback from roughly three dozen developers, architects, homebuilders, attorneys and others who operate in Phoenix.

  • The first meeting, held at Burton Barr Central Library, focused on residential development. Future meetings will revolve around commercial, industrial, adaptive reuse, historic preservation and small projects.
  • The department plans to bring its findings to the mayor and City Council in spring 2024.

Why it matters: The longer it takes to complete a project, the more money it costs developers.

  • The Valley faces a severe housing shortage, which is exacerbating its growing homelessness problem.
  • "The longer a permit sits in our office ... the developer's paying interest. And you know that he or she is going to pass it on to you and me," City Council member Debra Stark, Phoenix's former planning and development director, told us in a September interview.

State of play: Department director Josh Bednarek told Axios Phoenix that both the biggest strengths and greatest needs for improvement he heard from attendees came down to one thing — communication.

  • Some praised the department's communications and responsiveness, particularly upper management and lower-level staff. But others said they need more from the "missing middle" of staff, who are often largely inaccessible.
  • Attendees added communication can become a problem when they have to deal with other city departments, such as streets and water, as part of their projects.
  • One thing planning department staff emphasized was their commitment to responding within 24 hours.

Yes, but: Attendees want more communication, particularly in-person discussions that became less common as a result of the pandemic, or phone calls instead of emails.

  • Some said a 30-minute in-person meeting or five-minute phone call can accomplish more than dozens or even hundreds of emails.
  • Grant Olds, the owner of a Tempe architectural firm, said it doesn't matter much if each response directs them to another person who takes another 24 hours to respond.

Zoom in: Other suggestions or issues raised by attendees included the need for more interdepartmental communication, such as between the site planning and zoning divisions; more access to information so people don't have to file as many public records requests; better staff training; and allowing homebuilders to use PVC instead of clay pipes for sewer lines.

  • It would be helpful if non-standard projects with unique characteristics, such as those that use the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, got more notice if they're expected to need "special attention" that could cause delays and jeopardize funding, said attorney Carolyn Oberholtzer.

The other side: Attendees had plenty of praise for the department as well, including the quality of on-site inspectors, staff's commitment to help resolving issues, fair resolution of problems and the usefulness of the electronic plan review system.

What's next: The next listening session will be Friday at Burton Barr Central Library, with a focus on commercial and industrial development.

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