Examining Development Approvals Processes Across North America

June 15, 2023

The NAIOP Research Foundation has published a new research brief, "Examining Development Approvals Across North America: An Analysis of Site Plan and Building Permit Review Processes," authored by C. Kat Grimsley, Ph.D., visiting scholar in the Housing Economics and Real Estate Sector Research Group at the University of Alicante in Spain, and a former NAIOP Distinguished Fellow.

The brief examines development approvals processes across 100 jurisdictions from 30 U.S. states and the Canadian province of Ontario, and builds on The Development Approvals Index: A New Tool to Evaluate Local Approvals Processes (the Index) released by the NAIOP Research Foundation in February 2021. The Index provides a systematic method to objectively evaluate and compare approvals processes in different jurisdictions by focusing on site and building plan reviews, permitting and inspections. Publicly available data on these elements are weighted and summarized under three broad “pillar” categories: transparency, accountability and consistency – all of which affect the duration and cost of approvals.

The brief is accompanied by a spreadsheet containing detailed information about development approvals in each of the 100 evaluated jurisdictions.

Key takeaways:
  • Notably, most jurisdictions did not achieve high overall scores. Even the highest-scoring jurisdiction of Fairfax County, Virginia, scored only 69 out of a possible 120 points.
  • The brief compares jurisdictions’ scores against economic and demographic data, such as population size, population density, median household income and per capita budgetary expenditures. None of these factors has a direct correlation with Index score, suggesting that municipalities do not need to be large, dense, or affluent to adopt transparent, accountable and consistent approvals processes. Indeed, many of the practices evaluated by the Index do not appear to require significant resources to implement.
  • Those interested in advocating for improvements to a municipality's approval processes can refer to data collected using the Index to identify jurisdictions that have adopted specific practices such as third-party inspections or concurrent site plan and building permit review. Evidence that these practices have been adopted by other jurisdictions can demonstrate to local officials that alternative approaches can contribute to an improved entitlement process.
  • The brief shares examples of best practices from jurisdictions that received comparatively high scores for transparency (Goodyear, Arizona), accountability (Fairfax County, Virginia) and consistency (Georgetown, Texas).
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