A Winning Formula for Permitting
Another area that is not well understood, in my opinion, is the importance of being able to get the professional planning staff of the local governmental agency to recommend approval of your application. This is not always possible. Sometimes, even though the staff is in favor of your request, local politics of the community will not allow them to recommend a favorable vote. However, it is well worth the effort to make feasible changes to your project if it will ensure a favorable recommendation from the staff.
Consider this: some years ago, the National League of Cities conducted a survey throughout the United States. It found that more than 70 percent of the time, the first reviewing body – usually appointed officials – voted in accordance with the planning staff’s recommendations.
They further found that for those items that then either automatically made their way to elected officials or were appealed to the elected officials, the chances were less than 15 percent that the initial vote would be overturned! Therefore, if you enter the public hearing phase for your application with a staff recommendation to deny your project, you are fighting a very difficult uphill battle. The odds are stacked against you.
One of the best ways I know to gain staff support for your project is to hire a well-known local planning consultant who has a track record and is respected by the local planning staff. Generally, the staff will not come right out and recommend a single consultant. But, it is usually possible to get two or three names of local consultants with whom the local staff is comfortable. With a little more probing, you can generally get someone to tip his hand as to the consultant he prefers.
You may also have a favorite consultant who has worked for you in the past. But remember, your favorite consultant may be completely unknown to the local staff and decision makers. If you insist on using your favorite consultant, one solution to the problem is to have your person partner with a local consultant. That way, the project gets designed by someone with whom you are comfortable, while the local firm can act as spokesperson for you with local officials.
During the application phase, keep in mind the following strategies.
- Front load the project. When designing your plans to mine a property, many governmental agencies want the project to be divided into phases. If a project becomes controversial, one thing that frequently happens it that the decision makers will not approve all the phases in an effort to show the project opponents that they haven not “caved in” to the applicant. One way to counter this is to “front load” the phases of the project.
Some years ago, I knew I was going to have opposition from adjacent residents on one project application. The plans I submitted broke the project down into six phases, but approximately 80 percent of the reserves were included in phases one through three. After listening to those who opposed our project at the public hearing, the decision makers approved only phases one through three and denied phases four through six. The opponents left the hearing feeling that they had received “their day in court” and derailed half of our request. I, on the other hand, was very satisfied since, as stated earlier, 80 percent of the reserves in the phases that were included in the phases approved and knew that the time it would take to excavate the reserves that had been approved would exceed the time remaining on the lease.
- Supply a report for the planning staff. In preparing for every application, a decision must be made as to the amount of information that should be supplied to the planning staff. My feeling has always been to supply as much as possible. If the local planning staff is going to write a report on your project, the more information you submit in your application, the greater the chance is that the report the planning staff generates will be taken directly form the applicant’s submittal. This is always preferable to having the staff write a report about a subject they don’t understand very well.
- Work with all involved government agencies. Today, it is the law in many areas that, when an application is received, the local government agency circulates copies of the request to other government agencies and asks for their comments.