Project Management

Dealing with Development Regulations: 7 Tips for Public Project Managers

Hope Gibson is an award-winning landscape architect and project manager who has managed public sector projects for over 20 years. Before that, she worked as a designer for firms specializing in public projects. She has worked on parks, freeway projects—even a dive park off the coast of Washington State. Hope currently works for Pierce Transit in Lakewood, Washington, where she has designed transit center landscape improvements, and is currently managing design and construction of a new transit center.

Public sector PMs must navigate complicated procurement processes and restrictions that don’t exist in the private sector. Public projects are built with public money—and with public money comes laws and policies that require transparency and inclusivity in decision making and accountability for expenditures. Most of these constraints are fairly well-known. One complicating factor, however, is less frequently discussed: development regulations are almost always written with the largest categories of development—commercial and residential—in mind.

Overall, these regulations are useful to protect public safety and ensure that developers address the impacts their developments have on the surrounding community. How they might impact or have unintended consequences to public projects—whose nature is frequently very different from the other development categories-- is rarely considered, if at all. Some of these impacts can add significant cost to a public project without delivering much in the way of public benefit.

In one memorable example, I once worked on developing a paved trail in a large forested rural park. The project sat on the outskirts of a large metropolitan county with an extensive set of development regulations. The regulations included strict stormwater collection and treatment requirements. The quarter-mile long, mostly flat trail …

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