2014 Summit Summary of Rountable Discussions

Sep 8, 2014   //   by PlanSmart NJ   //   2014 NJ Regional Planning Summit, Changing Economy, Changing Land Use, Economic Development, Infrastructure, Municipal Government, New Jersey, NJ, Policy, Redevelopment, Speaks Out Blog  //  Comments Off on 2014 Summit Summary of Rountable Discussions

14505884422_e6e96b9430_zFollowing our morning keynote presentation and response panels, Summit attendees were invited to discuss a series of questions in small groups at their tables over lunch. The many interesting observations recorded will guide our research in the coming year.

All tables agreed that New Jersey’s regulatory system and infrastructure funding is in a crisis, and needs to change to respond to the demands of a new economy and a changing climate.

There were recurring themes in identifying the most pressing problems:

  • Reducing uncertainty in the timing and cost of the development approval process is the #1 priority. Need to increase transparency and streamline approval processes by simplifying and unifying regulatory processes.
  • Managing the role of the judicial system is required to limit opportunities for endless litigation.
  • Reforming New Jersey’s reliance on property taxes that is driving “home rule” is required to encourage regionalization based on assessment and financial incentives.
  • Educating local officials and their constituents to “catch up” to the market is needed to reduce the lag between what the market needs/wants and what government officials and agencies understand.
  • Funding is required to improve public decision-making systems and to implement infrastructure projects.
  • Increasing accountability for elected public officials for their regulatory and infrastructure investment decisions is needed.

Twenty-three tangible solutions were proposed for governance, infrastructure, and regulatory (GIR) reform. For example:

  • Authorize a broader range for administrative approvals for permit applications that are consistent with regulations (e.g. “by right” zoning) to expedite permits instead of waiting for Board discussion and action.
  • Establish one-stop permitting or clearinghouses (e.g. New York City) to avoid redundant, excessive review. Expand New Jersey’s One Stop Shop to be a resource for entities that are already here, not just those the state wants to come.
  • Require regionalized review services where incentives for consolidation are proving insufficient. Any consolidation of municipal services will need to address employee pension incompatibilities.
  • Establish smarter capital planning systems in each State department based on defined synergy interrelationships between transportation, energy, and water infrastructure projects funding.
  • Have a statewide private bank that processes tax dollars, uses profits to fund regional needs (modeled on North Dakota, TIAA-CREF and Paul Newman)
  • Go direct to public with analyses of the costs of “no action” on infrastructure investments.
  • Change economic development focus of attracting business to focus on creating places that attract creative/innovative economy workers (like Austin TX and others cited by Richard Florida), and businesses will follow. Repurpose and make sustainable currently stranded assets including vacant office and retail space (e.g. Toronto old malls). Redevelop state and municipal land to create an R&D university and training centers with amenities that people want (modeled on Bloomberg initiative in NY City).
  • Simplify and post all plans, regulations, and decision making processes on readily accessible and regularly updated web sites. See Code for America (http://codeforamerica.org/) as model for putting information online (Trenton, Newark in NJ, Philadelphia, NYC, possibly Boston).
  • Seek the right people to serve and raise the prestige of public service by cultivating public leaders through leadership training that raises the level of trust and accountability in leadership and provides information needed to make hard choices.
  • Increase the level of civic education, understanding, and community engagement in the land use and infrastructure decision making processes to encourage public participation, engage creative constituencies, and provide field experience (such as design, build, and maintain sidewalks, trails, bike paths), especially targeting the 18 and under demographics (also programs for 14 and under, 10 and under…)
  • Ensure that land use policy does not promote segregation (e.g. Paul Jargowsky of Rutgers-Camden, www.russellsage.org/blog/neighborhood-segregation-and-concentration-poverty). Make sure that decision making systems represent all of our communities including color, gender, age, disability…
  • Elevate the roles and authorities of counties to include shared services and regional planning and permitting that has local implementation with a uniform process, giving counties more methods to raise money. Increase the professional qualifications and expertise of county personnel with planning/engineering/development backgrounds through training, certification, and continuing education. Create County Sustainability Hubs.

To advance these reforms, attendees saw eleven key roles for PlanSmart NJ to educate, coordinate, and communicate, such as:

  • Educate and cultivate a dedicated leadership committed to articulating and advancing needed reforms for planning and land use regulation, for infrastructure investment decision making, and for funding reallocation.
  • Engage students in reforming land use and infrastructure decision making by involving student governments, college student groups, high school and elementary school workshops and events (see Healthyschoolsnow.org)
  • Organize trade associations for various affected business segments, including broad-based, like State Chamber of Commerce and BIA; interest-based such as NJBA, NAIOP and ANJEC; the New Jersey League of Municipalities, Conference of Mayors, and Association of Counties; professional organizations, like county and municipal engineers, planners, contractors and consultants; and media and community organizations to focus on one or two key issues for change.
  • Convene events that are short and free to members, including regional planning conferences and smaller group meetings with elected and appointed public officials, including the Governor’s Office and the Judiciary.
  • Involve more minority organizations/communities, e.g. minority chambers of commerce in regulatory and infrastructure investment reform efforts.

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