Study: Rochester's rules are hostile to developers

A study of Rochester's regulatory process for developers concludes that the process is time-consuming, inflexible and hostile to industry.

The study, performed for the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce by Twin Cities consultant Glenn Dorfman, based its finding on interviews with developers, city staff members and others whose professional dealings bring them in contact with both.


Development services redesign (chamber study)

"This is across the board, at all levels," said Jerry Williams, the former Rochester schools superintendent who headed the Chamber committee involved with the study. "It's amazing how frustrated people are with this process at all levels."


The study was funded in part by a grant from the Bush Foundation.

The 38-page report says that staff members who regulate development in the planning department, public works department and building safety department have "no understanding of customer relations."

Common fears among developers, Dorfman said, are a likelihood of retaliation for complaints, long delays that threaten the viability of projects and subjective interpretation of development rules and regulations.

"Nobody talked about waiving ordinances," he said. "Nobody talked about changing zoning laws. They talked about how they were treated — that's the crux of this report."
Dorfman's chief recommendation is that the city adopt a commitment to service quality. He also recommended the city adopt high-tech practices to streamline its development-review process.

City reaction

Dorfman presented the report to city leaders last week.

"I don't accept it," City Administrator Steve Kvenvold said this week. "We never had a chance to participate in the process. … He (Dorfman) based this conclusion on a two-hour meeting with us, when he did 70 percent of the talking.

"I do see some value in having a citizens committee looking at our permitting process."


In particular, Kvenvold said, the group should examine the process for "bottlenecks" and publish a flow-chart to aid developers in navigating the city process. But, he said, Rochester has been among the state leaders in pace of development.

"It makes me wonder how we would be able to double our population in the last 30 years with these bad-attitude employees," Kvenvold said.

Council reaction

City council member Randy Staver, elected in November, was a member of the Chamber committee with Williams at the time the study project began but fell away from the group once he began campaigning for office.

"I didn't have any preconceived idea what the outcome would be," he said. "That was kind of the point." But, Staver said, he was surprised that high fees and stringent regulations weren't some of the developers' chief objections.

"This report was sort of 180 from that," he said. "I was surprised at how strongly (complaints about customer service) came through.

"I thought some of the statements (in the report) were a little harsh. I was a little bit puzzled by that."

He said he plans to look into the report further.


"I'm certainly not ready to believe the report out of hand," Staver said.

Council member Sandra Means took the report's findings as a call to action.

"I think it's time for us to go ahead and take this stuff seriously," she said. "It's our responsibility to get on board and start this 'quality' process."

Council President Dennis Hanson, who is credited in the report for "running interference" with city staff to aid developers, said he, was puzzled with some of the conclusions.

The report pinpoints planning and public works as the two chief departments developers complained about. But Hanson said he's heard more complaints about delays in building safety.

Hanson said he recalls out-of-town developers who "raved" about the quality of service from the city staff.

But, he said, "I do think it's a good opportunity for us, at this stage of the economic climate, to at least look at making some fixes."

What To Read Next
Get Local