Why Does It Take So Long?

Many frustrations occur with delays in projects and progress in the downtown. It seems like it always takes a long time to get anything done. The problem is a function of the process and how the process is processed.

Working as a private sector representative to a public sector process is sometimes confusing and drawn out. A Main Street Manager is sometimes confronted with issues that never seem to go away because it just takes too long to get things done. The problem is not one thing but can be a number of things, and how they relate to the process.

If there is a project that needs government approvals there are a whole plethora of items that will dictate the time that it takes to complete a task.  The Borough or City Council only meets a finite number of times as a group and if you have a meeting after that time you need to wait until the next meeting.

If there is a need to get planning commission approval for an item, it will be necessary to meet the planning commission and Borough or city council. If that meeting that follows the planning commission requires some formal action like a public hearing, then upon approval of the planning commission there will he an advertisement posted concerning the hearing. The meeting will have to be advertised for two weeks to provide notice to the community in case anyone wants to come and support or oppose the project.

There is always the potential for a project to need approval by a third party like the commonwealth or the county and you will need to meet on their administrative timetable. This timetable is a little more complex because you are dealing with schedules and minds of, in many cases, long-term employees that are not as flexible as you would like.

Using the above scenario let postulate the following circumstance . . .  someone comes to your group and says “guess what kids, my rich uncle Yahootie died and left me some cash and I want to donate 20 benches to the downtown.” The group say’s “yeah let’s do it.” 

Your main street lies on a state road and you will need to get permission from Penn Dot to put a structure in the right of way. Say the Commonwealth comes back and says you need a Highway occupancy permit (HOP). You must then locate where the benches will be on a scale drawing.

So the group figures that since they are maybe eight to weeks out perhaps it is best to run the approval process in tandem with the planning commission and the commonwealth application being done during the same time frame.  Then perhaps you find out that the borough or the city would rather you have permission from them before you apply to the commonwealth, just so everyone is on the same page.

Luckily, you can get on the agenda for the next planning commission meeting with what could be as little as two weeks advance notice . . . but they also want to see a scale drawing. So you find someone who can provide the drawing but you missed your window of two weeks prior to the meeting.  (Drawing — two weeks).

You submit the drawing a few days after the last planning commission meeting. You then wait four weeks for the meeting (Planning Commission — four weeks).

When you get to the Planning Commission some attorney that opposes anything that is ever proposed gets up and scolds the committee for encouraging ne’er-do-wells to hang out downtown.  He seems to have a concern on his part that the homeless will live on the benches. The planning commission recommends the plan but you could add an additional four weeks if they need to check some of the fine points of the argument against you.

The planning commission then writes a letter to the council supporting the application and that triggers your meeting with the borough or city council.  In most cases it will be a meeting that takes place not at the next meeting but the following meeting because it takes time to compose the letter and send to the council. (two weeks to send the letter).

When your time arrives in front of council, you are 12 weeks into the process and they like the idea no matter what the angry attorney from the neighborhood says to the contrary. They say okay and apply for the HOP. 

It then takes you like 12 weeks to get it through the process, and because you are on fire with your progress, you get positive results that will get you through at the end of 26 weeks. 

Then you order the benches and they come in say . . . four weeks and are installed within four weeks.  You are at 34 weeks under the best possible circumstance. If the time lines do not match and you have six weeks on items instead of four weeks it will slip by quickly. 

Beware it is easy to get lulled into acceptance of the a week here and a week there throughout the process . . . hours turn into days, days to months and months to years.

If there is a question by the angry attorney that needs review add four weeks for the next meeting.  If the angry attorney wants to talk legalese and you need the solicitor to look at the project, add another four weeks. If the benches are on a grade greater than two percent look for delays while the Penn Dot people check you handicapped accessibility and add another 12 to 26 weeks for a determination.

It would be nice if someone gifted the organization money and wanted to put an amenity on the streetscape, and you just could order the amenity and then install it.   But alas it is not like that.  What it is like has built in delays to assure conformity and safety.

This project illustrates why, in the revitalization process, you must go what I call “wide,” and have a lot of projects working all at once, and go as quickly as you can on all fronts. This will enable a group to see progress and accomplishments because once the queue is set, the projects will proceed in rapid order even if they are caught up in the procedural process for a extended period of time.

The more you do, the more you will have to do and the more you will accomplish.  If you wait for one thing to be done before you start the next you will be doomed.