Linking Imagine Austin's Vision to Reality: Best Practices in Development Review Panel

Oct 25, 2013 - 1:14 pm

How do we link a vision to a practical reality? As Austin embarks on updating its Land Development Code, great opportunities exist to improve the development review process. Scroll down for 5 of the top recommendations from out-of-town panelists.  Panelist Paul Zucker (second from right) shares his experience. (From Left): Mark White, Peter Park, LaShondra Holmes, Paul Zucker, and Larry Schooler.Click here to download the report which includes best practices shared from the panelists.

On October 15th, 2013, four experts convened to discuss ways to improve the development review process (see their video); whether it is looking at decision-making (administrative vs. legislative), redefining staff responsibilities, changing notification procedures, and implementing new technology, ideas were shared to help improve Austin’s processes.

The embedded video shares some of the lessons of Best Practices in Development Review: Smoother! Faster! Smarter! Here are some of the take away points that are vocalized by the panelists:

  1. Make as many decisions as possible administratively and consolidate the number of boards and commissions. This encourages a more efficient review process that can enable higher quality and more affordable development. Panelist, Planner and Attorney Mark White stated, “Legislative bodies should make legislative decisions. Legislative bodies should not make administrative decisions whenever you can avoid that.”
  2. The movement is to paperless plan submittal and review. The benefits include keeping all parties informed of where hold-ups are in the process, saving paper, and greater efficiency. It is important to note that this transition would require additional resources to provide larger monitors for review staff to proficiently process plans.
  3. A pay-for-expedited process has been used in multiple cities to provide a quicker review, though-if used-expedited review should not set others back. Expedited reviews can be viewed as a piloted project, since it shows that a higher level-of-service is possible.
  4. There is no reason to be under-staffed. Paul Zucker cited that cities can have full-cost recovery with reserves available for periods of recession. Staff responsibilities should expand beyond one area of review—such as combining zoning compliance and single-family review—which allows increased capacity and horsepower.
  5. Rethink notification through citizen/developer meetings, early notification and technology. Early notice can allow more time for public participation, a shortened timeline for developers, and potentially improved projects.





Following the panel, attendees were invited to break-out sessions with panelists and Land Development Code Advisory Group members to be able to ask questions on the following subject areas:

Breakout Sessions with Panelists and LDC Advisory Group Members
Session Title Panelist Code Advisory Group Member
Challenges and Other Cities' Processes LaShondra Holmes Stringfellow Dave Sullivan
How to Implement Changes Peter Park Mandy De Mayo
Law & the Land Development Code Mark White Chris Bradford
What are the Goals of a new Code? Paul Zucker Melissa Neslund

The words, ideas, and suggestions from the panelists will be presented to the Land Development Code Consultant Team for consideration. The ideas expressed by the panelists are their own do not necessarily reflect those of the City of Austin.