October 8, 2018
Other Voices

CT must ease regulatory environment

R. Michael Goman

In previous columns, I touched on reforming our land-use regulatory environment as one way to jumpstart Connecticut and get our economy on a growth path.

In the work that I do, we see many economies outside of Connecticut that have been experiencing steady or accelerating growth, sometimes for decades. A recurring theme in those communities is that their land-use approval process shares three characteristics: their process is simple; they move applications through the process swiftly; and there is certainty within the process itself.

A simple approval process is one that requires only the information necessary to ensure the health and safety of the public, and involves a review by only a few knowledgeable professionals.

Here in Connecticut, it's common for even basic approvals to take years and be reviewed by dozens of people, many of whom have no background or training in land use.

These good folks are members of local commissions and are asked to judge complicated applications. There review typically occurs after many technically skilled professionals have also reviewed the application. This is done at enormous cost to the business owner and the result of our process is that many good ideas never even make it to the application stage.

A swift approval process is simply one that takes a few months and no more. Certainly, uses that pose a material threat to public health and safety require more detailed and time-consuming reviews but those should be the exceptions.

Having certainty within an approval process is essential. This simply means that there should be objective, measurable standards in place, and if those standards are met the permits are issued. Connecticut municipalities too often ask commissioners to give equal weight to subjective opinions, resulting in applicants having no idea whether they'll receive an approval until after they've spent months and thousands of dollars.

In totality, our land-use approval system serves none of us well. It also means that investment capital flows out of, or never crosses into, our economy.

Setting aside NIMBYism, there's no technical reason that the average housing subdivision, apartment, office, retail or hotel project should take years to receive an approval.

Hundreds of communities in competitive markets are approving multiple projects in the time it takes us to approve a new bank branch here in Connecticut. Those communities are creating jobs, generating new taxes to pay for and improve the quality of life in their communities and building a future where their children can look forward to finding work when they grow up.

A number of years ago, a California politician left the state legislature to become mayor of Anaheim because he felt he could make a difference. One of his early decisions was to essentially take over the planning and economic development functions, with the goal of making it easy to invest in Anaheim. He sent the message out that they were setting aside their regulatory processes and he invited anyone with an idea that would create jobs to come in and see him, promising them they'd get a quick decision one way or the other.

In the next few years, Anaheim saw the development of many new projects and the creation of thousands of new jobs. Anaheim's success resulted from being just a little bit more attractive to investors than surrounding communities.

Investment capital, like water or electricity, flows along the path of least resistance. We just need to learn how to lower our resistance, and capital will begin to flow into Connecticut again.

R. Michael Goman is a principal of Goman + York Property Advisors LLC, an East Hartford-based real estate advisor.

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