Will Charlotte and Mecklenburg Merge?
City and County Services
April’s Charlotte City Council Transportation and Planning Meeting
The topic of consolidating Charlotte’s Land Development Department with Mecklenburg County Code Enforcement took place…..again……… Spoiler Alert – It’s not going to happen.
Here’s what did happen.
Context and History
In January of 2014, the Charlotte Mayor and the Mecklenburg County Commission Chair both prioritized making Charlotte and Mecklenburg more customer friendly. The city/county had earned a reputation as a “difficult place to do business”. As a result, the City and County in tandem hired Gartner Consulting.
The Gartner Report addressed 7 themes and 7 recommendations. While 6 of the themes addressed the process, it was the first theme on structure, that got all the attention and conversation.
Theme 1: Current Governance Structure does not Promote City/County Collaboration
Recommendation: Create Unified Development Services Governance Structure to Enable Improvements
The consolidation recommendation was to merge Charlotte’s Land Development and Mecklenburg’s Code Enforcement. The City regulates the horizontal development and County regulates the vertical development. The recommendation was for there to be one entity that regulates the entire process.
Four Years Later
April 8, 2019 Charlotte City Council Transportation and Planning (TAP) Committee Meeting.
The agenda item was an update on Charlotte’s new Development Services Center, a One-Stop Shop, which is scheduled for grand opening in November, located in the Government Center. This new One-Stop Shop is from the recommendations in the 2015 Gartner Report.
Alyson Craig, Charlotte’s Deputy Planning Director gave the presentation to the TAP Committee, which was followed by questions from the Charlotte City Council Members attending the meeting.
Conversation on Consolidation
Councilman Winston opened: with the first question, on behalf of himself and Egleston (who was not at the meeting). He asked if there had been talks with the County about co-location and bringing the County’s operation into the City’s One-Stop Shop.
Mecklenburg County also has a One-Stop Shop, which was created from recommendations in the 2015 Gartner Report. This One-Stop Shop is located in the LUESA offices, at the old Charlotte Law building on Suttle Ave, and has been open for a number years .
Alyson Craig responded: saying that consolidation was a political decision. However, she did acknowledge that there are inefficiencies in having separate One-Stop Shop operations.
Winston followed back: asking how to move the conversation forward. He suggested the Intergovernmental Committee explore the topic of consolidation, and inquired if it would be better for the city manager and county manager to handle this question and conversation.
Assistant City Manager Danny Pleasant interjected: endorsing the latter idea, that it is handled on the Manager level (not the Council level). He then pivoted on how the City of Charlotte needs to get “its house in order” before broaching any conversations with the County.
Winston pushed back: getting our house in order is just one step, we need to have a plan on how we will facilitate consolidation.
This is where Councilman Driggs chimes in. Driggs and Councilman Phipps were both present in 2015 for the Gartner Report presentations and discussions.
Councilman Driggs: called the topic a “hot potato”, and warned that this can lead to a confrontational situation with the County, because of money issue and turf issues. “It is not easy.”
Winston retorted: whether “it is easy or not”, we need to get past those issues if we want to achieve our goals. He explained he has heard from developers, staff and others that consolidation is an important step to building a better City and County. “We need to figure it out”.
Committee Chair Eislet suggested Winston talk directly with the County Commissioners on his own.
Winston responded: only him having a conversation with the Commissioners is just a repeat of past approaches. He reiterated a need for a plan, that is “intentional”, with a goal of getting consolidation done. “Having collaboration in a co-located place seems to be very important” .
Councilman Phipps concluded: that this was being talked about in 2014 and here we are talking about it again in 2019, with only incremental steps. He recalled how the Gartner Report addressed integration, and lamented how there were two separate entities in two separate locations. He said that the approach needs to be from a “holistic” level. “This is baby steps but the ultimate goal is integration.”
Now that the City and the County both will have One-Stop Shops there is very little chance for development services consolidation or co-location. Capital investment into two separate locations means co-locations will be difficult to achieve, even if the city gets their house in order.
While co-location would be better then two separate One-Stop Shops, these two shops are a better system then the old system. The City and the County have done good work to improve customer service, address the process complications and improve communications.
The work that City and County has done to improve the development process and customer service in the last 5 years since the Gartner Report needs to be appreciated and commended. However, there is still work to be done, improvements to be made and processes to be fixed.
If your company needs help navigating the City County process; or if your association needs help monitoring the changes happening within the City and County; or if your organization is having issues or complications in the development process - contact us and we can start with conversation and cup of coffee Contact@cltpr.com