Weekly Feature

2010-05-12 / Front Page

Planning process being evaluated


The Clarence Planning Board is analyzing the entire land-use process at the direction of the Town Board.

Last year, Jim Callahan, director of community development for the town, began evaluating procedures as part of a Lean Six Sigma initiative. He reviewed the major projects approved in the last three or four years, considering the number of meetings and time required before completion.

He said he found tremendous variation in the number of meetings, which, according to Lean Six Sigma principles, suggests changes might enhance efficiency.

Callahan said the Planning and Zoning Department and Planning Board are looking for ways to improve the process, reducing the time involved and the cost to the town.

“We want to look at the overall process kind of how the applicant looks at it, but also from the public standpoint,” he said. They want to make sure people’s opportunity to provide input on a project is not diminished.

Part of the analysis is focused on the role of the Town Environmental Quality Review, which was officially created in 2006. The Municipal Review Committee that predates TEQR was in place beginning in the late 1980s or ’90s, said Callahan, and was created to meet state requirements for environmental impact analysis.

Planning Board Chairman Al Schultz said TEQR is a way to get more volunteers involved in the process and provide an independent look at environmental issues. He said they are looking for ways to improve the process, or perhaps eliminate TEQR completely.

“Having any separate review committee, such as TEQR, engages more people and provides more opportunities for resident input. It also adds time, cost and sometimes confusion to the process,” according to information from Schultz.

It’s unusual for towns to have their own quality review committee, he said.

The steps of the land use approval process fall into two categories: concept approval and development approval.

Callahan said concept approval is the most critical stage and development plan approval focuses on the details of a proposal. The more information that can be provided when the project is introduced, the more streamlined the process can be, he said.

“If there’s anything that stands out in all the work that’s been done so far, it’s really how much upfront work do you do and how prepared are you to submit a project when the time comes,” said Schultz.

The Planning Board has brainstormed ideas for enhancing the process, and members are also considering how other municipalities handle the issue. Schultz said they recently sat down with the Amherst Planning Department, which has one of the shortest timelines they’ve seen.

“Anything we do is a recommendation to the Town Board. They’re the ones who have to say ‘Yes, let’s try that,’” he said.

There is no specific schedule for the evaluation, but they hope to be able to present something substantial to the Town Board by the end of June, he said.

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