An Overview of the RRC Best Practices

Posted on May 2nd, 2024

The City of Harbor Springs began its participation in the Redevelopment Ready Communities (RRC) program in 2019. In the past couple of years, some residents have questioned the value of the RRC program, suggesting our involvement in it will lead to a loss of local character, turn Harbor Springs into every other city, allow the State to control the direction of our small city, and invite developers to overdevelop Harbor Springs. Worrying prospects, indeed.

However, adhering to the RRC’s best practices actually strengthens our local character and provides us with avenues and tools to promote our economy, strengthen our community, and take control of our city’s direction into the future. Further, when we run through the RRC’s list of best practices, we find that not only are they beneficial to Harbor Springs, but they also align with many of the City’s long-held values and goals, established well before our engagement with the RRC and before the RRC even existed. 

So, what are these best practices?

  1. Adopt and update a Master Plan. We’ve had a Master Plan for decades and updating it is a State requirement, regardless of RRC.
  2. Implement a Downtown Plan. The City had a Downtown Plan before engaging in RRC.
  3. Create a Capital Improvements Plan. The City did not have a formal CIP until 2019, even though it is required by State law. This has been an extremely useful long term planning and budgeting tool, helping staff and Council understand the necessity of projects and available funding.
  4. Creation of a Public Participation Plan. This PPP has broadened the City’s communication and outreach efforts to the community to both inform the public of City happenings and to involve residents in the decision-making processes.
  5. The City must have a zoning ordinance and it must align with the Master Plan. State law requires a zoning ordinance to be based on a comprehensive plan.
  6. The zoning ordinance is user friendly and accessible. Encouraging access to a zoning code that is easy to navigate allows for better understanding of the rules.
  7. The zoning ordinance calls for concentrated development in downtown.  Not only does our current code do this already, but it’s been a City goal since at least 2012.
  8. The zoning ordinance allows for a variety of housing options. The current code already allows for a variety of housing options and this has been a City goal for over a decade.
  9. The zoning ordinance allows for flexible parking options. The current ordinance already allows for flexible parking options.
  10. The zoning ordinance includes standards for green infrastructure. Through the City’s Master Plan and Tree Plan, the City already established several goals to best manage the area’s natural resources, such as requiring tree plantings for certain commercial developments and improving our stormwater infrastructure standards.
  11. The zoning ordinance is clear about the development review process. We had already met this best practice.
  12. The City has a point of contact for development review. We had already established our zoning administrator as the point of contact.
  13. The City allows for conceptual review meetings. Conceptual review meetings give property owners an opportunity to better understand whether their projects will meet our zoning code requirements before they begin spending money on a project. Such meetings are also a way for the City to help residents understand our zoning regulations in order to avoid misunderstandings down the road.
  14. The City has an internal staff review policy. It’s important that City staff is guided by documented procedures so we are fair and consistent in administration of the zoning code.
  15. The City uses both the Planning Commission and Zoning Administrator to streamline the approval process. Our Zoning Adminsitrator is given the power to approve permits that are generally viewed as simple requests, such as new homes and signage. The Planning Commission also administratively approves commercial site plans. Public hearings are still required for special land uses and planned developments.
  16. Fee schedule. Having an easily accessible fee schedule allows applicants to better understand the costs of their projects before starting.
  17. The City has clear methods of payment. The City generally accepts cash and check; we have explored credit card payments for zoning permits but do not currently allow it.
  18. Zoning and planning forms are available online. Having applications readily available online is convenient for applicants.
  19. The City tracks development projects. We have recently installed software on our system that allows the zoning administrator to track the progress of applications. This will allow staff to know where an applicant is in the approval process and lessens the risk of the City or applicant missing a crucial step, which could be costly.
  20. The City solicits feedback about the permitting process. It’s important to understand from residents what is working and what needs improvement when it comes to the application and approval process. 
  21. The City has a clear recruitment and appointment process for boards and commissions. We recently established such a process so volunteer residents understand what is necessary to serve on a board, and so the process is fair and transparent.
  22. The City sets expectations for its board members.  Board members need to be accountable for their actions and dedicated to their role, so setting clear expectations lets our volunteers know their obligations and duties ahead of time.
  23. Orientation materials are provided for all board members. Without an orientation, an incoming board member may feel lost and less apt to participate in discussion. Orientation materials at minimum guide volunteers through the board’s purpose, how it functions, and its most recent activities.
  24. All boards have bylaws. Bylaws govern how boards run their meetings. Without these rules, it’s difficult to run efficient and effective meetings.
  25. The City issues an annual planning report. Our Zoning Administrator is responsible for annually delivering a planning and zoning report to the Planning Commission and City Council.
  26. The City has a boards training strategy. Training is important. While orientation materials help board members understand their roles and responsibilities, training provides volunteers with an opportunity to understand how to maximize their contribution to the board. 
  27. Joint meetings between boards. Joint meetings are a great way to enhance communication and collaboration between boards. While boards have their own responsibilities, there can be overlap between boards’ functions. Oftentimes, City projects or residents’ projects require review or approval from more than one board.
  28. The City has an economic development strategy. An EDS helps put the City in the best position possible to attract and retain the small businesses we need and want to support our residents and visitors.
  29. The City has incentive policies. Incentives can be financial or non-financial tools that encourage the types of businesses and development that the community wants to see in the city limits. 
  30. The City has a marketing plan. A marketing plan essentially documents how the City and its partners market the city’s businesses and assets to residents and visitors. Whether it’s our awesome downtown or our fantastic parks system, we want our current residents, visitors,  and prospective small business owners to understand what Harbor Springs has to offer and whether it would be a good fit for their business or family.

So, why are we involved? On one hand, as seen above, implementing these best practices helps improve our processes and brings a more collaborative and transparent approach to economic and community development. On the other hand, it opens us up to grant funding that otherwise would not be available to us. We do not have to accept this grant money if we don’t want it, but if there’s a project we want to complete and the grant’s conditions aren’t burdensome, then it makes sense to apply for State funding.

Finally, while some have suggested that “redevelopment” means the City is going to invite developers to come in and redevelop all of Harbor Springs, this is far from the truth. Rather, in the future there may be a vacant building or parcel that could use  a rehab, or the community may want to see a particular business in town. Being engaged in RRC offers us one avenue to secure assistance in rehabbing a building or attracting a desirable business that we may be lacking in town. We could also receive funding for public projects, such as infrastructure upgrades or downtown improvements. There’s no City goal, or State mandate, to redevelop the whole of Harbor Springs: City Council and City staff want to protect and preserve what’s great about Harbor Springs while reaching our goals and priorities as established in the Master Plan.  If City officials thought this program would harm the area they live and work in, or that it would bring no benefits to the community, then we certainly would not be engaged in the process. 

To learn more about our involvement in the RRC, please view the City’s presentation on our RRC webpage:

Victor Sinadinoski

City Manager