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Rochester considers liaison to link developers, city staff

Rochester officials have revived discussions around creating a new staff position to help developers navigate the city’s permitting processes amid criticism it isn’t smooth enough.

The City Council won’t decide whether to formally open a development coordinator position until it approves a 2016 budget later this year. But conversation at a Monday meeting put some contours around what function, exactly, such a staffer could serve.

Chatter over a dedicated development liaison at City Hall stretches back a few years — partly an outgrowth of a task force formed by the City Council to shore up the development process in Rochester, where a massive downtown build-out, the Destination Medical Center, is stoking project interest.

“There’ve been complaints from the development industry for some time about the permitting process and the need to streamline this process,” City Administrator Stevan Kvenvold said.

The prospective role wouldn’t be a substitute for private-sector development consultants, he said. The development coordinator wouldn’t advocate for specific projects. Instead, that person would provide a two-way link between developers and city to raise issues and address concerns.

Theoretically, the coordinator could help a developer navigate the next steps in a given project’s approval process — for example, what permits are required for the development.When a developer hits a permitting snag, the staffer could help identify the quickest fix.

“Right now, there isn’t a very clear one-stop shop for those sorts of things, so the development coordinator position was envisioned to hopefully address them,” City Council President Randy Staver said.

But even if city officials finalize plans for a development coordinator, he cautioned, it won’t completely solve efficiency and other issues that sometimes hold back Rochester’s existing permitting framework.

Online permit application and other upgrades could do more to answer those issues, Staver said.

“I want to be very careful that people don’t envision this to be a silver bullet, that we create this post and somehow all these issues go away,” Staver said. “There are several people on the council that believe we have some process and system issues that we could make better.”

Still, the proposed position would be a starting point. With dedicated time to vet and implement updated processes, that person could fast-track improvements that would make Rochester an easier place for developers to do business, Staver said.

Rochester’s city clerk, Aaron Reeves, has taken on much of the work that would fall to a development coordinator already. Kvenvold plans to keep him in the role part time for a yearlong trial. After that, the city could evaluate next steps.

Carving out time from Reeves’ existing duties would pave an easier path to formalizing the job. The city typically only has the resources to create between 10 percent and 15 percent of proposed new positions each year, and with about 35 expected to land on the table in negotiations this fall, competition is stiff.

“We’re in a good situation here where this could be a part-time position and we have someone that’s very excited about wanting to do it,” Staver said. “We could have a win-win scenario.”

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