From the Office of the Mayor:
The Binghamton Planning Department will present to City Council tonight a Business-Friendly Reform Package of more than 25 business-friendly reforms to facilitate private investment and expedite the approval process for quality development projects.
“We are always looking for ways to enhance our investment climate here in Binghamton, and this reform package is an ambitious step toward making the approval process for development projects more predictable, efficient and transparent,” said Tarik Abdelazim, Director of the Department of Planning, Housing and Community Development. “We are proposing 27 improvements to our City code and our internal review process based on rigorous analysis of feedback from the development community, City Council, residents and City staff. As private investment continues to grow in the city, particularly downtown, it’s our responsibility to eliminate bureaucratic hurdles and red-tape for those who are proposing quality and responsible development consistent with community-based plans.”
Some highlights of the Business-Friendly Reform Package include:
- Reducing the need for parking variances by eliminating off-street parking requirements and promoting shared parking agreements for certain projects. (Since 2009, 33% of all cases before the Zoning Board of appeals related to parking.)
- Amending code to allow more projects to be reviewed and approved by Planning staff instead of the Planning Commission. The Commission often requires a minimum of 60 days, whereas Planning staff do not.
- Allowing the City's Historic Preservation Planner to make immediate decisions on certain improvements to historic properties, eliminating the need to wait 30 or more days for review and approval by the City's Historic Preservation Commission (CAUD).
- Amending sign regulations to eliminate current “one-size fits all” restrictions, which will streamline the sign permit process for majority of applicants.
- Reducing costs to applicants by having staff assume responsibility for all public notice requirements.
- Using new City website, to be launched in April, to achieve 100% transparency with all development boards and commissions (Planning Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, CAUD and Shade Tree Commission), posting agendas and minutes for every meeting, and staff reports and decisions for every project
“Local and state laws mandate and define the review process for all projects, and it can be a cumbersome maze at times,” said Merry Harris, Director of the Binghamton Economic Development Office. “Our goal is to be proactive and helpful, guiding entrepreneurs through the review process in a way that respects their financial concerns, the laws and our community-based plans. By finding the right balance, we are creating a positive investment culture of quality development that will ultimately result in more attractive and vibrant neighborhoods.”
Tonight's presentation to City Council will outline all 27 improvements. Though most are recommendations to be carried out this year, some have already been implemented in recent months.
The City will also tout some positive trends with the development review process. For instance, the percentage of total Planning Applications that did not require a public hearing and were approved by staff increased from 14% in 2009 to 59% in 2012—meaning the majority of projects last year were approved in less than two weeks.
The Business-Friendly Reform Package was assembled by the City’s Building Policy and Procedures (BPP) Team, which includes members from Planning, Building and Construction, Legal, Economic Development and Engineering. The BPP Team has been meeting monthly the last several years to create a more predictable, efficient and transparent review process—and to make City Hall more accessible to those seeking to undertake responsible development.