A Modest Proposal: It's Time to Cut Red Tape and Boost Local Business

In business, time is money. That is especially true these days in real estate development, with shaky credit lines and up-and-down mortgage availability.

Real estate development is one of the drivers of the local economy across our state.

I have a modest suggestion for cutting red tape, saving time, and promoting the local economy.

Perhaps it is time for business groups in our major cities to get with the free-enterprise conservative Republican legislators and come up with a model bill that preserves planning principles, but cuts red tape and eliminates unnecessary procedures that stifle development.

It's time to eliminate the metropolitan planning commissions.

No, I'm not suggesting we abolish planning and zoning or not have staff to analyze projects.

I'm suggesting that the staff and developers negotiate the best solutions to issues that arise in a project. If a solution cannot be reached, take the project directly to either the Knoxville City Council or the Knox County Commission, depending on jurisdiction. The staff should make a recommendation on the project, but let the Council or Commission decide the issue.

At present, disagreements on planning issues are considered by the Metropolitan Planning Commission, members appointed by the city and county mayors. Very often issues are not resolved at the first hearing, but a decision is delayed to the next meeting. Or the next.

Everyone involved knows that a controversial project is going to wind up appealed to either City Council or County Commission. Cut the process short. Give the developers a decision from the staff and go get it resolved.

With a decision in hand, the developer can then move on with the project or move on to something else.

The various discussions with the MPC in Knoxville usually require the developer to hire one of about a half-dozen lawyer-experts to argue the case. Thus the time and the legal fees.

People in the business know what the regulations are. They should be able to satisfy the staff or make their case or work out a deal. Failing that, go straight to the elected officials who will eventually decide the matter anyway.

The MPC was set up to put distance between controversial decisions and elected officials. But it rarely works that way. The non-controversial decisions get made and people move on.

State government regulates MPCs and theoretically must approve local appointments. There would need to be legislation passed to abolish the appointed boards that currently have jurisdiction. But this is an issue whose time has come. Business people and chambers of commerce around the state are likely to support an effort to streamline the process and eliminate some of the red tape.

Routine decisions would get made quicker. Thorny issues resolved quicker. And the business people can get a decision before an option on the property runs out or the credit window down at the bank closes.

There are a lot of very good people who have served on MPC; it is a thankless job and little noticed unless controversy arises. But I think it is fair to say that there are members of MPCs here and elsewhere who know very little about business, the problems of developing a project, and the many chances that exist for a project to go off the rails.

Yes, we want to have good decisions made. Yes, we don't want a project that endangers a neighbor. Yes, we want consistency. But it is up to elected members of Council and Commission to ultimately decide what's best for the community.

We ought to be doing whatever we can to promote development, not hamper it. We ought to be promoting jobs in construction and real estate and title companies and mortgage companies and all the elements that make up the development industry in Knoxville, Chattanooga, Nashville, and Memphis.

Let the industry spend its time dealing with credit crunches, the availability of mortgage loans, and the uncertainty of the weather.

But let's give them one less thing to have to worry about.