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Not business friendly? Report: Cape needs to take action to mitigate negative perception

By Staff | May 14, 2013

If the city of Cape Coral is to rid itself of a perception that it is not business friendly, that its rules are outdated, and that its development review process is unnecessarily protracted, it must implement a new way of doing things, according to a report.

During a special workshop meeting before the regular City Council meeting at city hall Monday, consultant Paul Zucker unveiled his findings from a 256-page report by Zucker Systems, which included 243 recommendations for improving development services in the city.

One of the primary recommendations was for the city to hire a full-time director to lead the Department of Community Development, a position currently held by Paul Dickson, who also is head building official.

City manager John Szerlag said he would like to begin the process as soon as possible for filling the post. He said he hoped to have a plan in place within 45 days, with a DCD director to be selected by mid-August.

While the Zucker report praised the functions of each main group, the use of an interim director, who is also a building official, spread Dickson too thin.

“This director would pull together these diverse functions and three of them are working under an interim director,” Zucker said. “The council also said it needed to work on the codes, which are out of date.”

Council praised Zucker for the job he did in compiling his report. He interviewed city staff, policy makers and customers, saying most of what the report said was on the money.

“The overriding feeling is that he got it right. We’ve had focus groups of employees and administrators and I’ve heard overriding themes that the No. 1 issue is that Cape Coral was a crap shoot when it came to applications,” Councilmember Kevin McGrail said.

“We lack a director that can steer the ship. It’s tough to wear so many hats. Let’s start the process and find the right person,” Councilmember Rana Erbrick said.

The Zucker Report stated there were seven key areas that needed the highest priority: The city attorney’s office, finances and fees, Land Use and Development Regulations (LUDRs), organization, performance standards, PDP and site plans and technology.

Zucker said the city attorney’s office needed to appoint a special attorney to work with the DCD, and that the LUDRs and the Planned Development Project (PDP) instrument needed to be reviewed because they were either difficult too understand, onerous or antiquated.

“We got so much feedback on that because it takes too much time out of the attorney’s office,” Zucker said.

Szerlag said he hoped to have all the recommendations addressed in the next nine to 18 months.

How the recommendation will be prioritized will be the next task for staff and council.