1. Consider Conducting Preliminary Project Reviews
One common approach to reducing the likelihood of contentious public hearings is to have preliminary project reviews. The idea is that less formal meetings before the public hearing can hone in on aspects of a project that might be problematic, giving applicants some feedback before they invest substantial time and money in preparing detailed plans and drawings.
A pre-application meeting can be especially helpful when a controversial project is about to enter the pipeline. Staff can identify to the applicant potential trouble spots with what is being proposed.
Pre-application meetings can also take the form of a meeting held before the planning commission, open to the public. In some places this is called a sketch plan or conceptual review.
One other approach is to have a more specialized advisory board -- focusing on design review or conservation issues -- conduct a preliminary review of the project and forward its recommendations to the planning commission.
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