10 Years! Engaging People Matters

Posted by – Steve Cohen, Director of Community Development

The idea was the result of a nasty, horrible public hearing.  You know, the kind of meeting where people just get really upset and stop listening to each other.  I remember it as clear as day – the people, the developer, the looks of frustration on our Planning Commissioner’s faces.  Things had to change.

You see, the procedural process outlined by Michigan law for development project approval is inherently flawed.  However, the City of Auburn Hills decided 10 years ago that it would find a better way for all parties involved.

We wish to avoid this ... The City of Auburn Hills has found a better way to communicate.

We wish to avoid this … The City of Auburn Hills has found a better way to communicate.

How is the process flawed?  Well, it’s an issue of timing.  The old school nature of Michigan law creates the potential for conflict and friction.  For example, developers will spend months and thousands of dollars to design an acceptable plan; however, the average resident typically learns about that project for the first time 15 days prior to the public review.  Thus, residents are inserted into the process at the very last possible moment and asked to go to a public meeting to speak on a proposal they know little or nothing about.  The result:  Developers are ready for a decision and residents want to slow down or stop the project all together.

Thus, Auburn Hills adopted the Citizen Participation Ordinance in January 2003.  It was a first for Michigan – uncharted waters, but the right thing to do.  The Ordinance compels developers to communicate and interact with residents within 1,000 feet of their project at the beginning, not the end.  It’s simple, fair, and effective.

Does it work?  Yes!  After 10 years of implementation, the Ordinance has made our approval processes much more efficient.  Residents have told us that they feel part of a meaningful dialogue and developers like the fact that there are fewer surprises during public meetings.  Developers also appreciate our process because it helps avoid costly delays.

Yes, Auburn Hills found a better way to conduct business.  Never willing to accept the status quo.  No doubt, we’re a better community for it.