By Jon Nicholas
Estes Park EDC
Last week Adam Shake wrote about the Estes Valley Economic Development Strategy and Workforce and Education issues. This week we cover Business Climate. Earlier this year, we held a facilitated discussion with stakeholders to discuss successes and challenges surrounding the topic of business climate.
Avalanche Consulting helped the Town of Estes Park and Estes Park EDC in completing the economic strategy, and will be back in Estes Park April 22 and 23 to meet with the community. Amy Holloway, President and CEO of Avalanche Consulting, will present a report card on our progress, drawing from our update meetings in January and February. The meetings will take place Monday, April 22 at the Estes Valley Library, Hondius Room as follows:
1 to 2:30 pm: discussion focused on business owners and entrepreneurs,
3 to 4:30 pm: community-wide discussion about economic strategy.
The presentations on Tuesday, April 23 will take place at the Town of Estes Park Municipal Building, Town Hall Board Room, as follows:
8:30 to 9:45 am: community-wide discussion,
10 to 11:15 am: capacity-building discussion with business groups and interested community members.
Business Climate. The 2015 Economic Strategy defined this goal as: “Estes Valley government and business leaders embrace thoughtful policies and practices that help businesses succeed.” Such a broad goal can result in a wide variety of ideas, and the group identified about 40 successes and challenges that surround the concept of business climate.
The Economic Strategy describes the goal as “focusing on policy changes and new programs that will improve the Estes Valley’s business climate, addressing the needs of existing businesses and those wishing to establish new operations in the community.” Economic vitality and quality of life are intimately connected, which requires balancing competing goals.
The strategy explicitly mentions the very limited supply of vacant, developable properties in the Estes Valley, and recommends finding ways to encourage redevelopment of existing commercial areas. In 2015, interviews with business and property owners revealed “a common perception that the current development system makes it highly expensive to redevelop aging buildings and by restricting uses prevent some types of businesses and housing from existing in the Estes Valley altogether.” The specific 2015 Business Climate objectives were:
· Revising the Town’s current development policies and processes to match the needs of commercial businesses and workforce housing.
· Continuing the downtown master planning process and appropriately updating policies to reflect the new plans.
· Creating incentives to encourage property redevelopment and new investment.
· Improving communication between developers, property owners, and Town planning and permitting departments.
· Identifying creative uses for large properties that address community housing, commercial, and other needs.
Successes. Since 2015, there have been successes that our group’s discussion recognized. Development Code changes to encourage workforce housing projects have promoted a start to addressing a community need. (Nearly every project, however, has encountered opposition and concern, suggesting that much work remains with respect to community engagement.)
The Town has proposed or adopted numerous Code changes in the past few years. In May 2017, the Department prepared a memo for elected officials which explained that the objectives of the Code update process include:
· Simplify, streamline, and make more transparent and accountable all elements in the Estes Valley Development Code;
· Update language, procedures, and criteria to 21st Century standards;
· Impose clearly defined and understandable regulations;
· Balance the interests of nearby property owners with the entire community’s needs;
· Identify a clear process for every development code procedure
· Use a “deliberate speed” approach to process, allowing time for public comment, staff analysis and development review, but without arbitrary delays or indecision; and
· Reduce the number of approvals with “conditions.”
Since 2015, there have been nearly 40 Code amendments proposed, and the Community Development Department reports that it is currently working on about eight additional changes.
Challenges. The biggest current challenge concerns the building department. The Town is currently hiring a new Chief Building Inspector. Both the Town Board and staff have sought extensive input from local contractors on problems with the permitting process. Two months ago, The Town Board met with the public and took comments from contractors and related professionals about delays and costs incurred by contractors and property owners due to delays in the building permit process.
Since February, the Town has been working actively on improving the permit process. The Town formed a Building Advisory Committee, where contractors and Town staff are starting to identify both problems and potential solutions. The Town also retained an outside consultant to begin examining the entire process to identify potential improvements.
There were a variety of comments at the Business Climate meeting that essentially came back to trust and communication. Both businesses and residents are frustrated when the development approval process is uncertain, vague or contradictory. No one should want a system that produces so much difficulty for everyone involved. Also mentioned as challenges were the new flood plain map resulting in high flood insurance costs to downtown businesses, and the potential costs of storm water management.
The overall Economic Strategy explicitly recognizes the need to balance business needs with community-wide needs. Balancing community-wide needs should remain a key principle as the Town and Larimer County move toward updating the Comprehensive Plan. Fostering a system with greater predictability and clarity is a community-wide benefit. The final column in this series will discuss entrepreneurship and innovation. To see the full memo on business climate please visit www.estesparkedc.com / .