Strategies for Implementing Expedited Review


Through this effort, key stakeholders from local governments, tribal governments, developers, and others were engaged to understand challenges and opportunities to attain the expedited review requirement. This section strives to identify shared challenges and collaboration opportunities to achieve a 90-calendar day review timeline. The strategies identified below are listed alphabetically, and should not be considered an exhaustive list. These are suggestions heard through the development of these guidelines and research conducted to see what other state and local governments are doing to effectively achieve expedited review. DOLA encourages local governments and developers to collaborate in developing innovative methods to meet the intent of Prop. 123 – to expedite the review of affordable housing projects.

Purpose: Provide clear guidance to developers on the local housing needs and market variabilities. This will assist in a developer’s ability to meet the local needs with their application, therefore, expediting the review of the request. The affordable housing plan should be an effort in regional collaboration to understand each jurisdiction’s role in a regional housing context. This document can also highlight incentives available for projects that meet certain criteria and help a community achieve local priorities. 

Measure of Success: Increased synergy between community needs and the supply side of housing production.

Pro Tip: Go the extra mile to speak to potential developers on how to comply with the community priorities in the housing plan.

Purpose: This strategy specifically meets the intent of the expedited review requirement in Prop. 123, which is to design a unique process within the local land use regulations which creates a fast track or consolidated review process for projects which meet or exceed the community housing goals. DOLA encourages extensive community dialogue and collaboration to develop community support for such a process. This process may include all or some application types that an affordable housing project may require through the course of its development. This process design should be informed by an inclusive community engagement process.

Measure of Success: Affordable housing projects meeting the established criteria are provided a clear and streamlined review process which meets or exceeds the 90-calendar day requirements in Prop. 123.

Pro Tip: This streamlined process should include a higher level of collaboration between internal and external referral agencies, plan reviewers, and in-field inspectors.

Purpose: To clarify and describe the expectations, submittal requirements, responsibilities, and roles of both the developer and the local government in the application review process. These should clearly identify the submittal requirements, review process and procedures, tentative timelines, review/decision making bodies, and approval criteria. 

Measure of Success: Checklists and Guides are clear enough for a developer to understand the expectations of what a complete application submittal includes.

Pro Tip: Provide names, contact information, and links to additional resources to support applicant success with meeting all requirements.

Purpose: Internal evaluation of the land use regulations to identify standards and provisions which are not aligned with the community policies, values, and goals and identify strategies to better align them. The result of the assessment could be various updates to the regulations to implement and align the regulations with the desired policies. An update may be a targeted update of only select code sections or a larger, comprehensive overhaul of the code.

Note: DOLA’s Template Land Development Code (released summer 2024) could be referenced as an example code implementing best practices.

Measure of Success: Community values are aligned with code requirements and standards and the code is incentivizing affordable housing projects. 

Pro Tip: Draft standards that are clear enough to allow additional administrative approvals when all standards are met. (See Level of Approval Strategy No. 10 below.)

Purpose: Increase staff capacity on an as-needed basis to review expedited projects quickly, liaison with applicants to shepherd projects through the review process, or similar tasks. With the right partnership, this approach could not only increase capacity, but also the breadth of knowledge available to support applications and in-house staff. 

Measure of Success: Development of a relationship with a firm or individual who will help expand the knowledge and capacity of your in-house staff and fit with your organization and community culture.

Pro Tip: Developing an RFP to clearly describe the community values, desired approach, and what a successful partnership would entail will invite firms with a shared approach that are capable of meeting the community’s needs.

Purpose: Develops subject matter expertise in application types as well as a single point-of-contact throughout the entire planning process. This will increase efficiencies through application types, in turn, expediting the review process.

Measure of Success: Increased knowledge and understanding of each individual application, and an expedited review process that it becomes a significant incentive for developers to provide affordable housing.

Pro Tip: Align staff members with their professional goals, where possible, to create internal excitement over projects.

Purpose: A DRC is a regularly scheduled meeting between reviewing agencies to allow the opportunity to discuss the application and coordinate review comments. Generally this group would include internal departments, utility providers, special districts, and state and federal agency partners. The result will be more concise, informative, and relevant review comments being provided to the developer during the review process. This will help reduce the amount of time it takes to address and respond to comments as well as the number of reviews needed to resolve comments.

Measure of Success: The referral comments are more comprehensive and more easily understood by the applicant, reducing conflicting guidance between different departments or referral agencies.

Pro Tip: Schedule these at close enough intervals to allow an opportunity to discuss each application after it is submitted, but before comments are due.

Purpose: Intergovernmental Agreements (IGAs) are a tool for establishing cooperative planning activities across government entities. This can be a municipality and a county, or special districts, or other agencies charged with reviewing and influencing the development in a jurisdiction. An IGA could establish a shared commitment to an expedited review process for projects that meet certain criteria. Some communities may consider collaborating to align similar policies and procedures at a regional level which would reduce the amount of variability applicants need to navigate. 

Measure of Success: Review timelines are realized through coordinated review comments and clarified roles and responsibilities.

Pro Tip: Establishing an agreement on how and when cooperation occurs between governments will allow application types to more smoothly move through the review process. 

Purpose: Local land use regulations generally allow land uses to be approved at a variety of levels ranging from administrative approvals to requiring multiple public hearings. By allowing affordable housing projects to be approved administratively, the overall review process could be shortened and predictability for applicants enhanced. Implementing this strategy may require a larger update to the current regulations through which community awareness and support is garnered for these allowances. Allowing administrative approvals is not intended to circumvent the public process. Rather, it is a best practice to develop clear standards and criteria within land use regulations which further the community vision and goals. When an application has demonstrated compliance with those standards and criteria, it could be approved administratively. Alternatively, the jurisdiction could create a process that ends with the Planning Commission as final decision maker, removing the elected board’s approval except as needed for appeals. Similar to other strategies, DOLA encourages extensive community dialogue and collaboration to develop community support for these processes. 

Measure of Success: Aligning community values with the appropriate level of approval will increase community support and collaboration on projects.

Pro Tip: When a project meets identified community goals and all technical standards, administrative approvals are advisable.

Purpose: The purpose of this meeting is for the commenting agencies to discuss the review comments in greater detail with the applicant to ensure 1) the comments are understood and 2) the responses will address the comments adequately. Clarity in both the comment and the intended response will reduce the amount of time needed to review responses as well as the amount of time to review the resubmittal.

Measure of Success: The reduced amount of time to review a second submittal will be the key outcome.

Pro Tip: Include all agencies or departments who provided comments in the post-review meeting.

Purpose: This meeting offers an opportunity to discuss the submittal requirements, review process, evaluation standards and criteria, and any “red flags” the reviewing agency(ies) may initially identify. These meetings can range from very informal and optional to required and include an application. The level of formality will depend on each community; however, these should include, at a minimum, a checklist of what will be discussed at the meeting, an agenda, and follow up notes summarizing the discussion. The notes should include the required review process(es) and any “red flags” which will need further review or explanation. 

Measure of Success: The developer is provided clear guidance on what to expect from the local government and what the local government is expecting of the developer.

Pro Tip: Include a general timeline identifying how long the developer can expect the process to take, including resubmittal timelines in the pre-application notes.

Purpose: Projects that meet certain criteria for affordable housing are prioritized over other land use applications under review. This would mean that these applications are queued up and processed at the time they are submitted rather than placed at the end of the pipeline. This prioritization is a reflection of local goals and creates an incentive for developers to help achieve local goals.

Measure of Success: In order for this to be a successful strategy, all referral agencies must agree to a similar policy.

Pro Tip: Prioritizing these projects could simply mean that when they are submitted, they are processed and reviewed within a shorter period of time.

Purpose: Fundamentally, if the review process is inefficient or ineffective, the time it takes to complete any review will be longer than necessary. By evaluating the process to identify inefficiencies or methods of improvement, the overall time the review process takes will be reduced. This effort starts with a process mapping exercise followed by a comprehensive evaluation of each step to identify the function and necessity of each. Essential to the success of this effort will be to have all stakeholders, including exterior referral agencies, participate. Note: Moving from a manual to an electronic application submittal, permitting, and tracking system can be an important part of a streamlined and efficient process for many communities. In fact, many communities are working to refine and update their existing online application permitting systems; however, digital systems can also cause delays so it’s critical to assess software modules that meet internal and external stakeholder needs, while also working to improve internal processes with staff and referral agencies. 

Measure of Success: The length of time it takes to complete the review process is reduced.

Pro Tip: This evaluation should extend beyond the jurisdiction’s review and approval process, and consider how this process either supports or hinders ancillary review processes required by special districts, utility providers, and state or federal agencies. Consider “Six Sigma” or “Lean methodologies” as a way to assess process improvements using data-driven tools and techniques.

Purpose: Many jurisdictions hold public meetings at set intervals each month (i.e., the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays). Depending on the timing of notification requirements, submittal dates, and review timelines, these meeting schedules could unnecessarily extend the time it takes for a decision-making body to consider a request. The key to this strategy is evaluating the internal policies related to meeting schedules and noticing subsequent meetings. For example, the policy for affordable housing projects could be to provide notice for both the Planning Commission and Governing Body meetings at the same time to ensure the request is considered at subsequent meetings. Additionally, there may be interest in establishing criteria for special meetings to be scheduled jointly or concurrently for affordable housing projects.

Measure of Success: Time between public meetings is reduced.

Pro Tip: Allow for affordable housing projects to be noticed early enough so the request can be considered at subsequent meetings. 

a) Reviewer Training

Purpose: To enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the review process, it is advisable to conduct training sessions for in-house staff who may lack extensive experience in reviewing certain types of applications. These sessions should cover the key aspects to consider when evaluating the projects, thereby optimizing the review process and ensuring thorough and insightful comments. Increasing staff’s capacity and knowledge base will not only minimize the need for follow-up reviews but also lead to more comprehensive and relevant feedback, thereby enhancing efficiency. The goal of training should be to ensure consistency in the interpretation and application of standards resulting in clear and objective review comments.

Measure of Success: Staff become experts in the review of projects typically submitted.

Pro Tip: Seek training assistance from contractors, developers, and neighboring jurisdictions to understand the overall workflow of the project type.

b) Developer Training

Purpose: To create an opportunity for local governments to provide clarification and further guidance on application submittal materials, review processes, and interpretation of standards. The intent is to further develop partnerships between reviewing agencies and applicants and developers within the community. The form of these sessions could vary and include listening sessions, worksessions, or other events where applicants and reviewing agencies can clarify submittal requirements, application processes, or other items that arise through the course of application reviews. Other forms of engagement could include recorded videos, webinars, or other media.

Measure of Success: Reviewing agencies and applicants develop more cordial relationships resulting in a more collaborative process.

Pro Tip: Regular listening sessions will continue to build a collaborative environment.


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