Honey and Vinegar

Posted by on Mar 25, 2010 in Blog Article | No Comments

As the saying goes, you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.  While the type and amount of commercial uses desired vary from community from community, the bottom line is the same: a community cannot thrive without businesses.   Residents enjoy having goods and services available nearby and municipalities benefit from the diversified tax base.  This list of questions can help staff, boards and individuals determine whether they are truly business-friendly. 

1.       Does your community have a clear vision? Does it specify the type, amount and location desired for commercial uses?

If not, it might be time to update your comprehensive plan.  The comprehensive plan is a road map for decision-making.  It accomplishes this by establishing a clear vision, developing guiding principles and identifying areas appropriate for certain types of land uses.

2.       Are your codes and regulations up to date and easy to understand?

If the answer is no, the time is right to review and revise your zoning ordinance and related regulatory documents.  In the recent real estate boom, many communities found themselves amending their ordinance to fast track desirable developments.  This piecemeal approach almost always has unintended consequences that can become difficult for enforcement and may even lead to lawsuits that would have been otherwise avoidable.

The current economic climate is an ideal time to take stock of the state of your community’s codes and regulations in order to ensure that they reflect current goals and objectives. 

3.       Does your sign code balance aesthetics with businesses’ need for identification?

The law clearly allows the regulation of signage by a municipality. 

4.       Is the approval process seen as fair and efficient?

Whether an applicant seeking development review, a business renewing a permit or an inquisitive neighbor, the approval process should be clear and easy to understand for all involved.  Th

5.       Does your community provide any incentives for business relocation or expansion?

Long term stability in the commercial sector requires both business attraction and business retention efforts.  Incentives for both range in scale and cost. 

6.       Do you have an active chamber or business association?

Municipalities don’t have to do it alone!  Your best partner is an active organization who can assist with or lead efforts to attract and retain businesses.


Successful business attraction and retention starts with a plan and ends with implementation (although it never really ends, does it?)

AICP Exam Prep

Posted by on Mar 25, 2010 in Blog Article | One Comment

It’s that time again…preparing for the AICP exam.  Here are some tips that recent test takers found particularly useful:

  1. Attend your Chapter’s review session, if for no other reason than to get you into “study mode” and to obtain a copy of the Chapter Presidents Council prep CD.
  2. The exam, to some degree, has a point of view.  It is the point of view of APA.  Flip through recent issues of Planning magazine during your commute or on your lunch break to get a flavor for topical information.
  3. Review APA’s recommended reading list.  Collecting these items does not have to break the bank.  You can gather some of these items from the library or from colleagues.
  4. The exam is meant to evaluate a professional planner’s knowledge and does so from a national perspective.
  5. Most of what you need to know comes from experience.  There is a reason that someone right out of school is not eligible to take the exam.  Take confidence in that thought.
  6. On the other hand, there definitely is some required memorization.  No one keeps every important planning date, movement, individual, court case, and acronym on the tip of their brain.  You will have to spend some time reacquainting yourself with the material. Flash cards are extremely helpful for this.
  7. Forming a study group (3-4 people) gives your preparation some structure by meeting on a regular basis and by divvying up the workload.  You can even have a little fun with it.
  8. The membership website PlanningPrep (www.planningprep.com) offers guidance on the exam, database of practice questions, practice exams, planning related links, and a discussion forum.  The site currently has 1025 practice questions and 7 practice exams.

Good luck!

Opposition to Street Trees

Posted by on Mar 7, 2010 in Blog Article | No Comments

3 Arguments Against Street Trees
We have been working on a comprehensive plan for a community where the City’s engineer is opposed to landscaping within the right-of-way. He argues that the root system will penetrate into drainage pipes from residential sump systems and cause flooding. 

This is not the first time I have heard of an engineer opposing right-of-way trees.  A few years ago we were developing a comprehensive plan for a fast growing community where an engineer also prohibited landscaping in the right-of-way. His argument, however, was that over time the root structure of the trees would begin to heave the sidewalk upwards and create a “trip hazard”. Nevermind the fact that there was no sidewalk requirement…

Yet still another argument I have heard is that trees cause variation in the heat/thaw cycle of pavement areas within their shadows which can cause a shortened life span for residential streets.

Pros and Cons
At this point you are probably thinking what every planner is thinking – are you kidding me? The answer is no, and communities and neighborhoods across the country are being deprived of this amenity in the name of “engineering” – really? 

I struggle with how these weak arguments can conquer the benefits of creating neighborhoods with big, majestic tree lined streets.  But, let’s assume, for this a simple discussion, that all of these are valid arguments against street trees.  

As a firm we have conducted a lot of research on this topic, and have found a plethora of data supporting right-of-way trees. For example, the International Society of Arboriculture estimates that the improvement in curb appeal due to street trees increases real estate values by 5-20%.  This on top of less quantifiable factors such as the improvement to a neighborhood’s appearance or character.  It’s a case of first impression that happens to last a long time.  Mature trees are a lot harder to come by, and their benefits significantly outweigh, the occasional sidewalk repair or sump pump mishap. 

Changing Perceptions
How do we, as planners, overcome this impasse?  It starts by revising your codes and subdivision regulations to include street trees as a requirement. The arguments from engineers and public works officials can be mitigated.  We must champion the idea that we should be planning, designing and building the neighborhoods and communities that we all want to live in. So if that that means repaving the road a year or two earlier, or shoveling asphalt in 20 years to fix that “trip hazard” the tree roots will make, so be it.