Not unlike many businesses, the City of Boise’s planning and development office has seen a lot of change in the past two years. The suite of offices on the second floor of city hall lost a number of names – both those well-known in local development circles (Mark Lavin, Cody Riddle), and lesser-known, but important, folks.
Now, the city says it will cut back the number of projects that flow up to the planning & zoning commission for approval, decreasing the number of monthly meetings from two — to one. While the move will allow newer staff members to get trained up, it will also mean the number of projects approved will decrease – and timelines will increase.
“We’re experiencing a staffing shortage and an influx of new planners,” Design Review Planning Manager Josh Wilson said. “At the same time, development applications – incredibly complex ones – are steady and not slowing down. We just don’t have the staff resources to process all the applications for two hearings a month.”
The change will start immediately, but staffers hope it’s temporary.
“This is a temporary solution to get us through a period of time where we can’t keep up. Reducing planning & zoning hearings to once a month is going to create a little longer delay but gives our staff the ability to properly write staff reports and produce quality recommendations to P&Z,” Wilson said.
Though all applications are different, it typically takes about four to six weeks from the time an application is fully submitted to the time it comes up for a hearing. That will increase to between ten and 12 weeks, Wilson said.
The change will help staff handle the workload properly — but it will create a backlog. The city’s latest permit report shows nearly every type of project is taking longer to process than last year, with the exception of new multifamily complexes.
“There’s going to be a pain point at some time in the future where we have to catch up,” Wilson said. “The idea is that takes place when we are fully staffed and we have some more people with experience under their belts. We’re going to have to make a concerted effort to get through some applications (at that point).”
The slowdown in P&Z meetings could last through July – but the city is evaluating when to get back to its normal process.
Wilson said the forthcoming addition of new planning director Tim Keane as well as several recent hires should help. He also noted that two tenured members of the staff are on parental leave, and their return later in the year should help as well.