You Can’t Do Zoning That Way

by Sean W. Maddox
Md7 Land Use Department

The first time I was told that zoning couldn’t be done remotely was on my first day in the Land Use department at Md7. At the time, my supervisor was explaining that conventional industry wisdom suggested there was a need for in-market zoning and permitting services, but that she (and Md7) had a differing view. So, we got started on a project in New York and New Jersey, while working from our San Diego office. Then some projects came in in the Southeast, then the Midwest, then the Northwest too. Within months, I had pulled zoning and permitting approvals in several states I never even stepped foot in.

I heard that zoning couldn’t be done remotely again the first time I went to a telecom networking event. At that event I heard it several times, actually; first from a recruiter, and then a competitor. Still relatively new to the industry, I more or less let it pass. If these industry veterans were sure that an in-market presence was necessary, then I figured they must have their reasons. Arguing otherwise seemed like a fruitless endeavor at the time, but I took note of their opinions, even if in practice I knew differently.  Plus my supervisor had said that we may need to handle a zoning approval in person if a Public Hearing was required, so I thought that must be what these other folks were talking about.

After a couple years and many more networking events, I heard again that zoning couldn’t be done remotely. This time, it was from someone in the industry with whom I’d developed a working relationship, and they were rather insistent that it just couldn’t work the Md7 way. Then I explained how we have worked in 36 states, in over 3,500 jurisdictions, and had success in every one. I also detailed what is really a simple explanation for our success. We have a team of lawyers who are very comfortable reading code online, scoping out the process, and engaging planning and building staff over the phone. FedEx and UPS over night to just about anywhere in the U.S., with e-mail notifications to let you know the package sent to a jurisdiction has arrived in real-time. And we have found, again and again, that busy city employees very much appreciate receiving professional and complete packages, and have no problem processing them and sending the permits back in the pre-paid envelopes we include. If needed, we always have the option to have our contractor drop off, pick up, or sign for the permit in question. It’s been incredibly simple, efficient, and successful. By the end of our talk, I was pretty certain that this conversation had swayed another convert to remote zoning, and I would no longer hear from that person that it couldn’t be done.

As many times as I’ve heard that zoning can’t be done remotely, there is notably one group of folks from whom I’ve never heard it… the planners, building officials, and city staff in jurisdictions across the country.

January 29, 2015
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