Chart of the Day: Planning Regulation

Graphic credit: UCLA

Stephen Oliner, a UCLA professor doing research for the Federal Reserve Board, has made the first-ever estimate of planning times for commercial construction across the United States. Drawing upon 82,000 projects nationwide, he found that the average planning time nationally is about 17 months. But it’s a long longer in some places and shorter in others.

Based on Oliner’s map, it appears that Virginia has a lot more in common with the blue states in California and the Northeast than “red” flyover country when it comes to planning regulation. Indeed, the state looks like an extension of the Washington-New York-Boston megalopolis. (Hat tip: Timothy Wise.)

Bacon’s bottom line: What does this mean for development and re-development in Virginia? If, as I believe, population growth and real estate investment is gravitating back toward the urban core, longer planning times slow the market’s adaptation to changing consumer preferences and economic conditions. As documented in “The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City,” in Houston, which has no zoning and minimal red tape, developers can turn on a dime in response to changing market conditions. The zoning restrictions and other red tape we have in Virginia (a) makes real estate more expensive, and (b) slows the evolution of human settlement patterns in response to market demand toward more compact, walkable communities. Not good.

– JAB

14 Responses to Chart of the Day: Planning Regulation

  1. I thought Northern Virginia governments “rubber stamp” every request for new development made by one of the many evil developers. How can it possibly take so long to swing a rubber stamp?

    As usual, the successful cities like Charlotte, Jacksonville, Tampa, Dallas and Houston seem to be able to get things done. Moving to Virginia, is that Richmond or Charlottesville in the bright red? Has small city Richmond managed to implement more bureaucracy than anywhere in Tennessee, North Carolina or Texas? It’s bad enough when a big city is bureaucratic. However, it’s inexcusable for a small city to be unable to get out of its own way.

    But wait! I’ve seen that map before. Just recently. Oh yeah! It’s the same map as the one the details where Obama got his votes.

    Bureaucrats of a feather, they flock together.

  2. The land use review process can be relatively short in Fairfax County, when the landowner requests permission to build to right (i.e., doesn’t need rezoning or waivers). It’s simply a matter of filing the correct documents and demonstrating compliance with the applicable rules and regulations.

    When a landowner wants to build something that is not in compliance with existing rules or regulations (e.g., needs rezoning, a variance or a special exception), the process takes longer. The greater the impact on other property owners, the longer it can take. When landowners reach out to their neighbors and address their concerns, the process speeds up. Ditto, when the landowners work with the county staff.

    I’ve observed development proposals for McLean and Tysons for a number of years now. I only recall one larger project (Walmart at Tysons) that was clearly by-right development. Most times, landowners want rezoning that affects others. A back and forth between parties occurs, and the county needs to negotiate proffers. The more reasonable the parties, the faster the process goes. I recall one case where a landowner, trying to increase yield (houses per acre), argued that his lots would border on a public street — the Beltway. Needless to say, his project stalled until he gave up the absurd position. The county also sends signals to private parties when their demands on the landowner become unreasonable.

    • Why would think that fast growing areas like Charlotte, Austin or Nashville would be any different from McLean and Tyson’s?

      At the end of the day, the map is red in Northern Virginia but not in those other fast growing municipalities.

    • I don’t know about that, TMT. I was recently involved in a modest renovation of our country club clubhouse. The only exterior change was adding a deck that was perhaps 600 sq ft to the dining room. Given where the clubhouse is situated on the property no other home can see it. The application took months. It was rejected for the most bureaucratic reasons. In one case, an inspector we had to hire had his office more than 50 miles from the location. He was fully licensed to perform these inspections but you have to be within 50 miles to qualify. So, we hired another inspector and got the same inspection done again. The woman at the zoning office made her work rules very clear. She didn’t accept revisions on Mondays or Fridays and she didn’t answer the phone or speak to people during the first or last hour of her workday.

      The matter had to be escalated to the county supervisor to get the zoning department to act in a timely manner. There were no required revisions to the plans throughout the months long process.

  3. TMT is totally correct. I’d like to see the DIFFERENCE between planning that is your basic, by-right go through the administrative processes VS “planning” that involves rezones, variances, etc.

    Down our way – the administrative time required for by-right development that conforms to existing permitted uses – is fairly fast – sometimes just weeks.

    but if someone wants a rezone or a change to the Comp Plan itself or a special use permit for something that is potentially incompatible with adjacent uses, then yes.. it takes time – and it probably should.

    The ongoing narrative these days, spurred on by the right is that govt is bad….regulation is bad… free-range libertarianism is GOOD!

    It’s as if some folks do not understand WHY regulation came about in the first place. When the guy next door to your home wants to slaughter pigs 24/7 – you get that nasty govt “interference” , called “regulation”.

    your “rights” end at the tip of your nose.

  4. The regulations vary between localities, so much so that I feel as if I moved to mars when moving from Chesterfield to New Kent.
    Chesterfield’s best time for commercial process approval is 7 days…I think. But that was a fast track process. The city can either choose to fast track, or they can drag the process out forever, but then again so can anyone else.
    Sorry for the totally useless comment…but development “process” could drive me nuts if I let it. :)

    • You are completely correct. The process required to make interior, non load bearing changes to the inside of an existing office takes forever in Fairfax County.

  5. I had run across an interesting regulation website for Virginia.

    It’s called the ” Virginia Register of Regulations”

    they publish a big-weekly list of new regulations being promulgated.

    take a gander at the most recent one:

    http://register.dls.virginia.gov/vol29/iss11/v29i11.pdf

  6. Big rezoning applications are complicated. The latest proposed rezoning application for the Spring Hill rail station area has draft proffers that are 59 pages long. The subjects covered are (taken from the table of contents; second number is the page number):
    1. Conceptual Development Plan. . 1
    2. Minor Modifications.. 1
    3. Umbrella Owners’ Association or Equivalent.. 2
    4. Proposed Development.. 2
    5. Existing and Interim Structures and Uses. 3
    6. Final Development Plans. 4
    7. Development Phasing.. 5
    8. Building Design. 6
    9. Build-to-Lines.. 6
    10. Activated Streetscapes and Ground Floor Elements.. 6
    11. Parking Structures.. 9
    12. Building Height.. 9
    13. Telecommunications Equipment.. 10
    14. Fire Marshal. . 10
    15. Non-Residential Building Certifications. 10
    16. Residential Building Certifications. 12
    17. Sustainable Energy Practices. 14
    18. Landscaping.. 15
    19. Streetscaping.. 15
    20. Interim Conditions and Standards.. 19
    21. Grid of Streets. 21
    22. Tyco Road. 24
    23. Spring Hill Road. 25
    24. Broad Street. 26
    25. Pierpoint Street. 28
    26. Merchant Street. 28
    27. Service Alleys. 29
    28. Circulator Accommodations. 30
    29. Traffic Signals. 30
    30. Signal Optimization.. 32
    31. Bus Shelter 34
    32. Construction Traffic Management.. 33
    33. Tysons Grid Fund.. 33
    34. Bicycle Circulation.. 34
    35. Bicycle Parking. 34
    36. Zoning Ordinance Requirements.. 34
    37. Phasing of Parking.. 34
    38. Future Parking Revisions. 34
    39. Parking Stipulations. 34
    40. Tysons Transportation Management Association. 35
    41. Transportation Demand Management Plan. 35
    42. Transportation Demand Management for Retail/Hotel Uses.. 45
    43. Existing Uses.. 46
    44. Affordable Dwelling Units.. 46
    45. Workforce Dwelling Units.. 46
    46. Office and Non-Residential Contributions to Affordable/Workforce Housing.. 47
    47. Publicly Accessible Parks and Recreational Facilities.. 47
    48. Private Amenities and Recreation Facilities for Residents.. 50
    49. Athletic Field Construction.. 50
    50. Fire and Rescue Station Contribution. 51
    51. Interim Fire Station Circulation Improvements. . 51
    52. Public School Contribution. 51
    53. Electric Transmission Line Relocation. 51
    54. Stormwater Management. 52
    55. Zoning Administrator Consideration. 53
    56. Board-Initiated Service District for Table 7 Improvements.. 53
    57. Condemnation Procedures. 53
    58. Metrorail Tax District Buyout for Certain Residential Uses.. 54
    59. Adjustment in Contribution Amounts.. 54
    60. Advanced Density Credit.. 54
    61. Tysons Partnership.. 54
    62. Severability.. 54
    63. Successors and Assigns. . 54
    64. Counterparts. . 55

  7. This portends well for the area from the rust bt through Texas.

  8. TMT is correct. A rezoning application for my farm was estimated to cost over “$110,000. And that was a simple plan and more than ten years ago.

    This sort of thing guarantees that the farm will be sold to a big developer.

  9. Larry: I would like to see the difference between my “by right” zoning of thirty years ago vs my “by right” today.

    The farm and its operation has not changed in that time. But the difference in “by rights” could essily amount to a stealth tax burden of $30 million.

    Think about this. I am located directly on route 66. 60 acres of the farm was taken for its construction. For which my fsther in law was paid the princely sum of $200 per acre.

    To me, it seems that I am way on the wrong side of that landowners “windfall” that EMR and TMT and Larrg used to bitch sbout.

    As for bacons observation of s resurgence in urbsn living, it is easy to see why. All the options have been closed off. There are four bright young engineers in my office. To a person, they hsve sll but given up on owning prooerty.

    They think we will become a nstion of renters. These are engineeers. What does thst say about high school graduates, let alone dropouts?

  10. Larry: I would like to see the difference between my “by right” zoning of thirty years ago vs my “by right” today.

    The farm and its operation has not changed in that time. But the difference in “by rights” could essily amount to a stealth tax burden of $30 million.

    Think about this. I am located directly on route 66. 60 acres of the farm was taken for its construction. For which my fsther in law was paid the princely sum of $200 per acre.

    To me, it seems that I am way on the wrong side of that landowners “windfall” that EMR and TMT and Larrg used to bitch sbout.

    As for bacons observation of s resurgence in urbsn living, it is easy to see why. All the options have been closed off. There are four bright young engineers in my office. To a person, they hsve sll but given up on owning prooerty.

    They think we will become a nstion of renters. These are engineeers. What does thst say about high school graduates, let alone dropouts?

  11. I may have evolved my opinion over the years that we have discussed land development and by-right use but probably not as much as you’d prefer.

    I do acknowledge that Fauquier has pushed land-use controls to the limits in Va . I know of no other county (but there may be some) that are are strict or are effective in controlling land use.

    However, even in places like Stafford and Spotsy, they generally will not approve major subdivisions on AG or Forestall land though they WILL allow family subdivisions and the like.

    Part of the reason is because people will then build access roads to the subdivided parcels and then a few years later want to county to put their unpaved road on the VDOT paving list – which is way more than paving.. since the roads were never engineered, much less to VDOT standards to begin with.

    That leads to problems with postal delivery and school buses and other public access …

    but more than that – even where land IS designated for development, and is developed into a sea of subdivisions – most of the residents are day commuters to the DC area and our roads were never originally designed to carry the amount of traffic they now carry, especially during morning and evening commutes.

    The premise was – all long – that whatever we did with regard to development that VDOT would fix, upgrade and improve the roads commensurate with the growth.

    There’s a legitimate question here as to who exactly should be paying for commute infrastructure – the commuters themselves or all of us.

    because clearly, this is additional infrastructure over and above what you’d have if you did not have these longer distance commuters.

    We’d look more like Lynchburg, or Harrisonburg or other stand-alone type places where there may be some commuters but not 50% of your population.

    Many of the commuters down my way say with passionate conviction that they “have no choice but to commute” and what I point out is that for every one of them – 5 others decided to not commute and to live closer to their work in the DC area even if it means they have to rent and may never be able to afford a conventional detached house – unless they decide to commute – to “drive til they qualify”.

    People DO have choices – and they DO make them AND there are consequences especially with regard to the scope and scale of transport infrastructure it takes to support their commute.

    I don’t have a problem with development but I do have a problem with permitting development that imposes impacts that decreases quality of life of existing residents as well as increases taxes on them but I do not oppose growth itself. I support it. I think it’s healthy and more important – inevitable but in addition to population growth and residential growth – we do need “growth” of good schools, libraries, fire/EMS, etc.. and these cost money and there needs to be a fair allocation of who pays – and the same goes for transportation infrastructure for commuting.

    who should pay for commuting infrastructure?

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