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Bob Koch

January 12, 2010

Bob Koch, AIA

In Pursuit of Planning Approvals 

The Florida real estate development market is currently held hostage by the credit crisis, surplus inventory, and the pervasive fears of further valuation decline in these uncertain times.  The result has not only impacted the private sector but the public sector as well, as communities throughout the state begin to react to the decline in building activity and collapse of revenues once fed by the real estate explosion.

Public visions and investments, once financially founded upon fees, levies, and taxes from property improvements now find themselves suffering from cash flow difficulties just like the private interests they are called to police.

Public staff personnel have also seen or feared the slow down could result in their position becoming disposable. In a desire to promote activity, many communities (and the staff called to represent them) are reviewing the candidate incentives, once withheld, as potential mobilizing events that might accelerate the recovery and restore some semblance of financial growth to the local economy and the public treasury.

To that end, we have observed that issues once considered and rejected are now being seen in a more favorable light.  Rigorous zoning appeals, challenging site plan approvals, and public monetary extractions have faded and invitations for re-submittal, reconsideration, and even financial incentives have replaced the prior tone.

Certain public objectives, once advanced through public RFP’s containing oppressive terms and conditions, are now being recast with invitations that resemble, if not are, private/public partnerships.  Communities and public entities are offering to extend the strength or equities of their domain as tools to advance recovery, job protection/growth, and a more vital local economy that ultimately underpins the public revenue stream.

 While once entitlements were stingily distributed, they are now weapons in an arsenal of economic growth.  Credit enhancements, idle land contributions, land use intensities, expedited approvals, public infrastructure contributions and financed fees and levies have all found their way into the public lexicon as the reality of the economic slow down hits even the rank and file in public service.

 Much of Florida and the communities that comprise the state have come to the realization that growth is not a dirty word and that their livelihood also depends upon it advancing with responsible but reasonable terms.

For those with larger land holdings, long term entitlement challenges, or the need for cooperative incentives to advance the cause of future use, this has become the best time in recent history to press on an approval campaign.  Prospects of a future that might require public referendum to seek such entitlements loom as a remote possibility.  Together with more understanding personality of the public sector, now more interested in making something happen rather than containing growth, our advice to the development community is to invest smartly in mobilizing that approval today. The environment of building partnerships, in kind or in fact, with public interests is at hand.  Combined, that can assure future values, and a prosperous measure of progress, once indications of financial stability return again to the real estate industry.

While one could suggest a significant surplus of approved inventory may already exist, the future of the state is still focused on expansion.  Smart and patient money would find no better way to build value than to bank it in the best entitlement environment we may see for decades to come.

 Bob Koch, AIA is Principal of Fugleberg-Koch Architects located in Winter Park, Florida