We’re a land use and economic development company. Most people aren’t sure what that means, but essentially we have three types of clients:
- Developers – we help developers get the permits and approvals then need (especially difficult ones) in a timely manner. We also help them analyze and select locations for their projects. We also help bridge the gaps where a jurisdiction’s policies, permits and practice don’t quite fit or are not anticipatory of a type of project.
- Cities/Countys/EDOs – knowing what it takes to make a project happen, we help advise communities on policies, programs and marketing so that they are more effective at getting the economic development they want. Essentially, we help these clients get smarter, more strategic and we do it for a better cost structure than “planning” companies.
- Small Businesses & Individuals – zoning is one regulation that applies to every business, every non-profit and every individual, so when small businesses run into zoning challenges that are complex and political, we help them navigate to safety. Click here for an example
Unfortunately, we frequently hear our new small business and individual clients say something like, “Wow, I didn’t even know people like you were out there. . .”
We recently helped a small business, The Grayson, resolve a zoning compliance matter that threatened to shut them down because their c0-housing solution to long term rentals for corporate relocation clients was defined as a “hotel” though it’s a far cry from such. It would be incredibly difficult to walk through the challenges of their situation in a single blog post (so we won’t try). But, we’d like to provide you with our client’s thoughts, which she allowed us to share:
“Toyer’s firm has a great background and working knowledge of regulations, zoning, and code. Toyer was able to navigate the complexity of county planning department and code, succeeding in getting a resolution that kept our business from having to close. More incredible was the fact that Toyer was successful where attorneys had failed to help us with the problem. Without Toyer Strategic’s involvement, we would have spent thousands of dollars fighting a losing battle,” Mariam Zinn, Owner, The Grayson
We’re proud of the work our company does and what it means to small business and entrepreneurs.
Got a zoning or zoning compliance issue? We can help. Contact us
Whether you are a community, economic development organization, real estate developer or expanding business, our land use and economic development expertise can add significant value to your projects. Here’s an example of value we’re adding to a project by changing the land use and zoning.
On a 6-1 vote Wednesday night, the Auburn Planning Commission recommended the City Council approve a comprehensive plan map amendment and rezone for 1.89 acres that our firm has been pushing through the City’s annual docket cycle on behalf of a client. If approved by the City Council, the resulting zoning would increase the density of the site by as many as 29 additional housing units.
“This project is a perfect example of how our company can help land owners and developers add value to their properties and projects,” said David Toyer, founder of Toyer Strategic Consulting. “With land supply inside urban growth areas becoming more constrained, our experience changing zoning and permitted uses can add significant benefits clients looking to achieve a higher and better use.”
In another example earlier this year Toyer Strategic successfully amended the matrix of permitted uses in the City of Pacific, Washington to allow a client to move forward an industrial warehousing in an office park zone – a obvious win for the project developer, but also a key win for a city which hadn’t seen much new development in that zone.
It’s been a little over a week since the City of Seattle voted unanimously to enact a $275 per employee tax on it’s for profit businesses grossing more than $20 million per year in the City – expected to raise around $48 million in new tax revenue that the City indicates it will spend on homelessness.
Leading up to the decision, the business community tried to send Seattle a message. Amazon, who many other communities around the country are pursuing with vigor, paused construction and discussed not creating up to 8,000 additional jobs. In the days since, Pierce County (neighbor to the south) and its cities have since announced a $275 per employee incentive per year for five years in addition to up to $1,500 per year in incentives that businesses creating at least 5 jobs can already claim.
The decision in Seattle has been made subject to the success of any referendum to repeal it. However, are there lessons from Seattle that businesses, economic developers and even cities can glean from this? Yes. Here are my top five.
- Be prepared to defend economic development decisions. Collectively, we want jobs. . . better jobs. . . jobs for our kids. . . etc. And elected officials know that and usually campaign on things like low unemployment and higher wages. Despite the fact that creating jobs is still the political will in most communities, those winds can swiftly change. Typically, this happens when an incentive package is viewed as being too rich or the intensity of growth in a specific location enlists a greater negative public response than the positive attitude associated with jobs. Every economic development project should prepare and have ready an economic impact analysis and/or a return on investment statement that show how that activity benefits a community. More and more this is becoming critical to not only sell elected officials on the benefit of economic development, but to give the public confidence it is in their best interest as well.
- Include political due diligence in any site location decision. Businesses base site location decisions on a combination of factors including site development costs, logistics, operational cost factors, tax liabilities and a judgement as to whether the incentives offered can be delivered as promised. Additionally, they will look at the current political situation, but they often stop short of fully assessing the local political history of the community or evaluating future political risks. These risks come from natural cycles at the local level which are tied into the leadership of the community, the health of the community and the amount of growth it may have already embraced. I’ve written a previous blog about this topic which goes into more detail here.
- Know the facts and be honest about them. It appears from some reporting that misinformation about the cost of homelessness in Seattle may have been circulated and used a justification for the adoption of the head tax. Unfortunately, misinformation spreads immeasurably fast these, which justifies the attention to detail that economic developers need when it comes to attracting new economic development projects and putting the deal together. Often, I’ve seen how easy it is for a city to say, “Yes, we can do that” only to realize they can’t. I’ve also seen examples like that of a community that touted its available water capacity as the basis for attracting an economic development project. But after some digging into the details, the capacity was only ‘on-paper’ – the water could be produced but couldn’t be distributed. One solution to ensure accuracy for all is the use of third party site certification. However, even site certification has its challenges, which I discuss here.
- It’s not good business ‘poaching’ businesses from your neighbors. There is a difference between a business deciding it is in their advantage (lower rents, closer to customers, etc.) to relocate from one community to an adjacent community and the instance where a neighboring community acts to lure businesses. The latter creates negative competition and distrust locally. Moreover, when the gloves come off and incentives are involved it can often raise to the level of being addressed by a state legislature, which often results in further restrictions on the right kinds of economic development activities.
- Be aware that policies like “Growth Management” lead to future political, social and economic challenges that place business and economic development in the center of debate. One of greatest challenges in the greater Seattle area is its complex state growth management laws restrict nearly all development to within defined urban growth boundaries that have not had any significant revisions since established in the early ‘90s. Well intended in vision, this governing regulatory approach has some critical flaws in implementation. For example, the “density” first approach to accommodating future population and job growth in the Puget Sound region has driven up the costs of housing, construction and infrastructure because vacant land supply is critically low, and redevelopment built-out areas to higher intensity uses adds expense. Unfortunately, expanded growth boundaries aren’t expected soon. Second, the reality is that investments in infrastructure to support growth have very rarely been made prior to and in full knowledge of the growth occurring, relying on a “growth should pay for itself” philosophy that clashes with legal requirements that a development only pay its fair share. Even mitigation collected from development has six years to be spent. It’s no wonder there is public outcry. This disconnect has left cities in the position of always playing catch up on infrastructure, services and capacity
It will be awhile before we know the true impact of Seattle’s head tax. But what is clear is that it has broad implications on economic development – implications that may not be the solutions advertised.
About the Author
David Toyer is the founder of Toyer Strategic Consulting – a firm that advises businesses and communities on economic development and land use. David has nearly two decades of experience and has worked on projects throughout the country. For more information about David Toyer or Toyer Strategic Consulting, visit www.toyerstrategic.com.
A package of code amendments in the City of Pacific, WA has completed the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) notification period and provided no SEPA appeals are filed by January 19, 2018, the amendments will head to the City’s Planning Commission on January 23rd.
Toyer Strategic Consulting is helping to move forward a package of code amendments in the City of Pacific, Washington. The proposed amendments, targeting changes to the City’s Office Park and Industrial zoning districts, aim to attract new industrial development opportunities. In summary, the proposed amendments include changes that:
- Allow additional uses in the Office Park zoning district
- Permit additional building height in the Office Park zoning district commensurate with additional building setbacks
- Modify the size of parking stalls and adjust off-street parking requirements.
In addition to these amendments developed by Toyer Strategic, the City has added amendments that address parking lot landscaping and business signage.
Prior to submitting proposed code amendments, Toyer Strategic worked with industrial developers, architects, engineers and city staff to identify areas of the code where changes would encourage future development opportunities. Additionally, Toyer Strategic researched and evaluated similar code requirements in 19 other communities with like zoning districts and/or populations.
Companies, especially those in real estate development, have developed comprehensive due diligence/feasibility processes to determine if a project is a go or no-go.
But even the best due diligence/feasibility processes we’ve seen lack an understanding of the ‘political’ elements impacting a project, which often results in one of two scenarios:
1. The company passes on a project in response to a perceived regulatory roadblock, which if investigated further might be easily navigated, or
2. The company proceeds with a project only to run into an ‘unexpected’ political change that threatens the entitlements they seek (e.g. moratoriums, more stringent regulations, emergency ordinances, etc.).
We’ve got solutions and here’s how we help:
- Political & Regulatory Risk Assessments – We specialize in understanding local and state regulatory systems and we excel at researching local regulatory trends, past project results, changing political winds (example: is the no-growth neighborhood group running candidates to flip the local council/board?). We can help your company assess the political and regulatory risks prior to your investment.
- Reverse Engineering of Regulatory Roadblocks – Have you ever passed on a project because you ran into a single regulatory limitation that didn’t fit the project (e.g. allowed % of lot coverage was too low for your home designs)? We help companies assess regulatory roadblocks and design strategies that can change the red flag your seeing into a green light.
- Maximizing the Project’s Value – What if you could get a little more density? Shorten your approval by a few weeks? Or reduce some of your project’s conditions? We can help with that. We understand the politics of negotiation, as well as the opportunities to speed up local regulatory processes, and we can assist you in maximizing your next project’s value.
- Proactive Project Mine-Clearing – Developing relationships, seeking code interpretations, securing code amendments – are all efforts we can manage on your behalf prior to your next project moving forward.
- Community Outreach – There’s nothing worse than thinking everything is going great only to go to hearing and have dozens of neighbors show up in opposition. We are experienced at communicating with neighborhoods and adjacent landowners, and we can help your company manage long-term project risk by utilizing the opportunity to address concerns early in the process.
Want to learn more about how we can help your projects? Contact us.