Nonprofits  May 31, 2024

Tayer: ‘At least somebody cares’

This is the type of column I love to write … with a positive message about collaboration between our business community and city government. In this case, I’m referencing the work of Brad Mueller and his team in Planning and Development Services. 

Before I get clobbered for even suggesting there is reason to break from the usual critique of anything associated with Boulder’s planning review and permitting processes, let me first acknowledge that I’m sure some of you are still caught in a tangle of primitive review stages and others are still waiting for timely resolution of conflicting planning standards. Change comes slowly when the problems have been layered-in over a long period of time.  

Still, there is reason to celebrate the progress we’ve seen and, in the words of one developer, “At least somebody cares.”

That comment came in the form of a compliment to Brad and reflects what he has exhibited since arriving in Boulder just about two years ago. He comes to us following extensive planning work in Greeley, Weld and Douglas counties. Maybe even more instructively, he served a significant post-college stint working in operations for the Disney company where they are famous for their customer service mindset.

2024 John Tayer
John Tayer

From his very earliest days in Boulder, meeting with everyone from the most ardent anti-development advocates to sustainable development proponents, Brad was always clear to recognize the value this community places on the quality of our built environment. That can mean important periods of reflection and elements of control. However, most importantly, Brad recognized it was in no one’s interest to needlessly delay housing or commercial projects.

I emphasize that “needlessly delay” point for a reason. For far too long, and in response to calls for more extreme control on development, Boulder has generated endless public process and regulatory hurdles that, at times, directly conflict with other community goals. Take for example the Use Review standards. I don’t think anyone wanted a coffee shop to wait an extra six months or longer to determine it had permission to replace a tea shop. Remember, time means money, often sending good companies down the road or saddling them with unbearable debt levels.

Recognizing the heavy lift ahead of him, and after hearing of deep community concerns regarding difficult experiences in everything from residential home remodel projects to commercial developments, Brad and his P&DS team are beginning to turn the corner. First, they focused on hiring the personnel to fill open positions decimated by ill-advised COVID period layoffs. Responding to prodding from our corner, Brad recognized the opportunity to hire contract permit review staff to help wade through the backlog of applications. Then moving quickly to make full-time replacements, there is every indication that the new P&DS hires hold the same customer service instincts as their leader. 

The results of these efforts have been demonstrable, for example: 

  • Initial permit reviews for large building projects have moved from a hair-pulling period of up to 14 weeks to now being regularly near the city’s performance goal of six weeks. 
  • Building inspections that occurred at widely varying rates are now targeted at a single business day. 
  • The P&DS team now resolves 69% of planning questions and conflicts prior to the need for a meeting.

Anticipated advancements continue this June, as P&DS is seeking City Council approval to eliminate the site review process for projects with no site change. This adjustment is expected to reduce the number of commercial developments subject to use review by 40%, cutting approximately six months of plan approval time. The P&DS team also urges the council to require at least two Planning Board members to call up a project for further time-consuming and costly review. 

Let me be clear, there still are many improvements to make in Boulder’s development review processes and regulatory environment. We’re hoping to see, for example, zoning code changes that increase predictability. As another focus area, we will be seeking amendments to the inclusionary housing rate and the cost penalty on fourth and fifth floor development. We all have an interest in middle-income housing, but regulations don’t make that feasible. 

But it’s a sunny spring day, so let’s end on the positive. Brad and his P&DS team are hearing us — residents and businesses alike. While we share an interest in the built environment that is a source of our collective pride, development and permit review inefficiency isn’t necessary and the damage can undermine other community goals. For that reason, it’s good to know “somebody cares.”

John Tayer is president and CEO of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at 303-442-1044, ext 110 or [email protected].

John Tayer
John Tayer is president of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce.
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