How to Fix Land Development Pain Points

Physical land is a community’s most valuable – and finite – resource. Developing land comes with pain points and associated risk. How much revenue, for example, will a developed parcel generate in the near and long-term future? What type of maintenance and service will the new infrastructure require? What if sales and property tax revenues fall short of infrastructure investments?

These questions are increasing in importance as the early, first tier, suburbs that rose from initial urban sprawl in the 1970s and ‘80s are now realizing that infrastructure replacements are coming due. In addition, new, further-out suburbs are growing and proactively strategizing to maximize their investments. Finally, larger cities experiencing new urbanism are faced with revitalization development efforts. These factors provide governments with a renewed opportunity to review land use strategically.

While cities have not traditionally addressed the fiscal productivity of land in development cases for a number of reasons, there is an opportunity to do so now. The opportunity hangs on an integrated technology infrastructure and shared data approach.

The Whole Picture

Becoming proactive in land development can ensure that the fiscal equation tilts positively toward a public investment. Aggregating a government’s data creates the full-vision picture necessary for smart planning. This comprehensive view includes developers, plans, parcels, zoning, permits, appraisals, revenue, public works, engineering, and more.

One of the biggest reasons why jurisdictions aren’t proactively addressing strategic land use is because the information needed for proper analysis is hard to access. Information that is locked behind many different siloed systems is difficult – if not impossible – to meaningfully analyze.

A Better Way

This common pain point for communities big and small, mature or developing, has a solution: actionable data. Access to and insight from data across the government can lead to an effective, proactive development plan with financially successful outcomes.

Pre-development analysis, for example, should show the ways in which developments drain from or contribute to municipal services. It should examine the long-term costs of maintaining infrastructure and the associated budgeting strategy. It should include revenue projections along with fiscal impact and broader economic impact analyses.

The key to achieving smart analysis is knowing which data – and from which departments – is necessary. The other half of the equation is having the technical infrastructure in place to surface and aggregate key information. In practical terms, this means bringing together:

  • Property tax trends and real estate valuations
  • Infrastructure, asset management costs, plans, and depreciations
  • Budgets and debt service forecasts
  • Comprehensive land-use systems.

Aggregating this data involves multiple systems such as land and property, community development, community services, and finance and administration. An integrated platform approach that seamlessly connects these line-of-business systems is the foundational layer that enables effective data sharing.

There is a real value-add here for professional and elected leaders. By using technologies that integrate along process communities, leaders can build models to help analyze development options. They can make – and explain – decisions based on clear insight.

The Public Piece

Any use of taxpayer resources requires constituent buy-in. Proposed developments can stir up opposition from adjacent neighbors or preservation groups. The good news is that a natural byproduct of effective internal data sharing is external transparency. Open data platforms that also integrate with the back-office systems provide important context along with the numbers to educate and engage residents and the media for critical support.

What data analysis and sharing can do in one jurisdiction can be achieved across a region. The natural evolution of internally integrated systems and citizen engagement is regional data sharing and connectivity. This holds the promise of strategic development and infrastructure solutions that benefit many communities across geographic or political boundaries.

Meredith Trimble is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She is a former municipal official and Town Council Acting Chair, who focused on strategic planning, annual budgeting, and bonded infrastructure projects. Her government experience also includes posts in both federal and state-level executive branch agencies: Associate Editor of the U.S. Federal Election Commission’s FEC Record; and Director of Education for the CT Office of State Ethics. In her current role as a Senior Content Specialist with Tyler Technologies, Inc., she writes content to help empower those who serve the public. You can read her posts here.

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