Jax “Streamlining Growth and Opportunity” transition committee readies recommendations

Jacksonville seal

With Lenny Curry at the one-week mark in his mayoral term, his transition committees are preparing their recommendations for final delivery. Florida Politics has obtained a draft copy of one such transition committee document, that of Streamlining Growth and Opportunity, and it predictably goes deep.

The committee addressed issues related to making planning, zoning, and permitting processes more efficient, while looking at staffing and performance-related metrics. Among the report’s high points are recommendations to make it easier to do business in Jacksonville and substantial revisions to the 2030 Comprehensive Plan.

The report recommends keeping the current Planning Department leadership. Their “accessibility and willingness to solve problems” and “openness to change” factor into that recommendation.

There were recommendations for changing the application process, an oft-cited bane of business owners. One was a revamp of the Planning Department’s Internet portal, which is neither “user-friendly,” “fully automated nor interactive.” Apparently applicants can’t even fix typos.

The current configuration also does not allow tracking applications through the process. Workflow management is cited as a potential area for improvement. Also, the report recommends better communication among departments to end “trench mentality.”

The committee report also cites the Office of General Counsel for delays in “review of zoning, plat, development agreement, and other entitlement applications.” An analysis of time spent on those processes, along with a removal of duplicative processes, is recommended.

There’s a desire to increase resources for Building Inspection and Development Services. Development Services is underfunded; the committee will recommend a review of funding philosophy to ensure more effective resource allocation. The committee also seeks to ramp up the IT staff of the Building Inspection group.

It also states:  “Communications between applicants and the Planning and Development Department currently depend largely upon the identity of the particular reviewers involved … In order to streamline communication, we need to take attitude out of the equation and make the review process a fine oiled machine that supports growth.”

The report then considers neighborhood organizations.  “Neighborhood organizations lack proper skills to effectively work with business owners and developers to resolve growth management issues and/or jumpstart revitalization efforts in neighborhoods, resulting in costly delays that ultimately discourage investment.”

To that end, a Neighborhood Leadership Academy is recommended to train people in the rudiments of effective leadership that works with developers.

As well, “[a]ctions to assign planning staff to specific neighborhoods should be discouraged as this often results in compromising staff impartiality. This is both an issue of equity and expense as extensive staff time devoted towards community group activities represents a cost and labor burden to the City.”

As far as small businesses it’s clear the committee was listening when Curry was campaigning. The group seeks to “provide a one stop resource for people opening a business in the City of Jacksonville. Establish an easy-to-navigate website that clearly identifies all basic steps that must be taken with the City of Jacksonville to open a business.”

Thewebsite should be able to collect fees as well.

The report also discusses transportation issues. One salient recommendation: “The Transportation Planning Division needs to be revived, funded and staffed (including a Division Chief) and related functions in other divisions such as pedestrian and bicycle planning needs to be considered within the Transportation Planning Division.”

An increased focus on pedestrian safety is recommended because Jacksonville “has been identified as a Pedestrian Focus City by FHWA due to [a] high number of pedestrian fatalities.”

Onward to zoning. The zoning code is outdated, according to the report: “Current zoning districts encourage use of PUDs beyond their intended use; some processes are duplicative or clog Council agendas. Form a task force, with City Council, Planning Commission, neighborhood, and industry representation, to update the Zoning Code, with a 9-month deadline for the submittal of recommended legislation to the City Council.”

Expect sparks to fly when the task force ramps up: In city after city, zoning issues occasion sharp debate.

The committee recommends a similar level of scrutiny to the Planned Unit Development process, which has become “confusing and cumbersome.”

The 2030 Comprehensive Plan also is under siege.

“The 2030 Comprehensive Plan in its current form reflects outdated state laws and rules and state agency policies which were substantially revised in the 2011 Community Planning Act. These outdated provisions result in needless requirements and staff review time which do not reflect City planning priorities but, rather, reflect the state provisions which have been repealed or revised,” asserts the committee.

As well, the Planning Districts are based on “old population data” and are “very large,” both factors that preclude effectiveness.

Finally, “there is no Jacksonville elected official representation on the Regional Council. The Mayor/Council President immediately should fill all Jacksonville vacancies on the Regional Council.”

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


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