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Is perception really the reality?
by Tray Abney
Aug 04, 2012 | 1986 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Recently, The Chamber and several of our members were asked by the team at the city of Sparks to participate in small discussion groups regarding development and zoning codes in the city. Clarion Associates and CFA of Reno were contracted to look at best practices in other cities and regions and to conduct interviews and conversations with various stakeholders in our community. These stakeholders included city council and planning commission members, developers, builders, planners, architects, real estate professionals, sign industry representatives and trade groups.

City staff was directed to study codes in an effort to make Sparks as business- and development-friendly as possible.  The City Council is looking to ensure that staff members are working toward “yes” when it comes to helping a job creator get their operation off the ground and running.  City staff should reach out a helping hand, listen to the goals and intent of the business owners and do everything in their power to make that dream a reality. We know that environmental, zoning and building codes should be followed.  All of us care about our community and want it to remain a wonderful and safe place to live. We just need to ensure that the market and customer demands dictate development trends, not planners and government staff.

What Clarion and CFA found is that there is a general belief that some development standards are too strict in some parts of the city.  For example, there is a broad swath of the eastern part of Sparks that has been labeled a “Transit Oriented Development” (TOD) corridor, even though a large part of that area is composed of large, industrial employers with employees who drive to work.  It was recommended that the TOD area be reduced.

Some other recommendations made in the consultants’ report included reducing discretionary review and uncertainty.  In other words, some users of the system have commented that your experience in the process really depends on the particular staff person with whom you deal with instead of everyone being treated in a consistent manner.  Also, there needs to be a way to provide, as accurately as possible, a total cost estimate for a project, from start to finish.  Can we reduce the hoops and layers of approval that a project developer has to jump through?  Can we allow staff to give administrative approval for minor changes, so that not everything has to go before the City Council in a public meeting?

One of the interesting conclusions that came out of this entire exercise and in the discussion before council is that city staff and the report writers believe that there are a lot of tools already in place to deal with a lot of the complaints that they hear. There is a belief that the solutions to this problem are already in code and state law, but they are not spelled out clearly to applicants.  The study recommended improving the organization and format of the city code and making it much more user friendly.  The City Council wants to know if there are still real problems with the code, or just perceptions based on past experiences and the anecdotes of others.  Once the changes outlined above are made and the code is cleaned up and presented in an easy-to-understand-and-utilize way, Sparks needs to shout from the rooftops that it has improved the process and has become more business-friendly.  If the perceptions we hear are not, in fact, reality, they should be attacked head on.  Every step that we can take to make the Truckee Meadows a better attraction for our new and expanding businesses is critical.

Developers, chambers and other interested parties appear a lot before councils and commissions to oppose or complain, but it is also vital that we support and assist when our local governments are doing things that enhance our economic vitality.  The Sparks City Council and its staff should be commended for tackling this issue.  The business community needs to know that you can get things done in Sparks.  While you may have heard about a negative experience that happened to someone you know awhile back, come in and check it out for yourself.  If there are still problems with codes or ordinances, tell The Chamber, tell city staff, tell your elected representatives.  If you have a great experience at the permit counter, tell everyone you know.  We need to separate perception from reality and the City of Sparks is ensuring that they do just that.

Tray Abney is the director of government affairs for The Chamber. He can be contacted at tabney@thechambernv.org.
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