Panelists at the u201cPartnership with Municipalitiesu201d session discussed ways to make projects a win-win for cities and developers.

(Save the dates: RealShare Apartments East comes to the Hyatt Regency in Miami, FL, on February 26, and RealShare Los Angeles comes to the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles, CA, on March 27.)

PALM SPRINGS, CA-“Cities can only thrive if they have investment, and our job as city staff should be to facilitate investment consistent with community expectations,” said Al Zelinka, director of community development for the City of Riverside, who spoke on the panel “The Partnership with Municipalities—Finding Common Ground in Apartment Development” during the NMHC Apartment Strategies Outlook Conference here this week. Zelinka and three other panelists discussed the ways that municipalities, owners and developers can work together to facilitate projects that are successful for all.

Larry Curtis, managing partner of Winn Development, spoke about affordable housing and emphasized the tax credits that development projects can produce for those who are willing to go down that road. “We build affordable housing that rents for $700 to $900 a month per unit, but new construction doesn’t support this growth without subsidies.”

Clyde Holland, CEO of Holland Partner Group, gave the example of working with one city government to get a residential project built in an area that was zoned for industrial. By offering to pay 20% of the property taxes for the first 10 years and getting the city to finance SDCs, more cash flow was produced, making the project more palatable to the city.

The panelists also discussed regulations and how legislation such as CEQA slows down development. While sustainability was seen as a positive step in the development arena, Zelinka said, “We’re trying to reinvent development regulations. It should be the burden of the city to get entitlements underway, and then get out of the way.”

He added that more projects are integrating sustainable features and developers are embracing sustainability regulations—green building codes, the Global Warming Solutions Act, incentives for solar energy and reduced electric rates during project phase-in—and that Riverside in particular is making it easier to invest in sustainability.

Holland pointed out that attitudes at the city level need to be more forward-thinking and less reactive to immediate economic events. For example, as in the recent economic downturn, when development activity slowed, “the people behind the counter begin to get really worried. If you show you want to get things done, the city will rally around you until things get moving—then it’s back to ‘take a number’ again. But some cities do a long-term plan to prevent a sudden downturn from negatively impacting it.”

Parking and its inherent problems was another discussion point. Zelinka said that there is a reluctance to use scarce land for free parking, “so we rely on the expertise of developers to tell us what they really need.” Holland described some unique partnerships that help with transportation, such as Zipcars, a car-sharing service that works via a smartphone app. Members are given a card that unlocks cars all over the world, which saves time, money and gas.

What’s your opinion on working with municipalities to get projects done? Have you found solutions that make development go smoother? Share them in the comment box below.