Policy & Tools: Community Impact Reports

A community impact report (CIR) is a policy tool that reforms the development process in two ways. First, CIRs create a process through which everyone—community leaders, developers and local officials—has access to vital information regarding proposed projects. Too often, community leaders find themselves excluded from the process and information about projects, developers are reluctant to share too much information about their projects and local officials struggle with competing interests and demands. The results of this failed communication are development projects that meet the needs of few and cost the majority a great deal. Requiring CIRs facilitates equal access to comprehensive information on proposed projects.

Second, this policy tool creates a formal process for considering the public costs and benefits of proposed projects. Too often development projects are approved without considering the impact they will have on the local traffic, quality of life, job market, etc. CIRs provide a mechanism for documenting and considering all of the public costs and benefits of proposed projects to inform public approval and subsidy decisions.

While CIR ordinances and policies vary, they all create a process and information for evaluating proposed development projects. The CIR process typically begins with a report, compiled by the developer, that assesses the fiscal, employment, housing, neighborhood and smart-growth impacts of a proposed project. In states or on projects that don’t require environmental impact review, those impacts may be included as well. The report is submitted to local officials (or other decision makers) for review during the early stages of the project. The CIR is also made available to the public so that community members can review the impacts of the proposed project and provide feedback at public hearings.

This process provides benefits for all stakeholders. Developers are given an opportunity to report on the positive contributions of their project, as well as any potentially negative impacts. This process also enables developers to receive productive feedback from the community. Decision makers are able to make more informed decisions regarding development projects and build a collaborative relationship with the community. Community members gain greater access to the development process.

Across the country, community coalitions have won ordinances requiring developers to produce community impact reports. CIR ordinances come in many forms and apply to different jurisdictions. Most commonly, CIR measures are passed at the city or county level, although there are also state-level policies. Each measures has a threshold or trigger at which a CIR is required (for example the square footage of a retail store, number of units of market-rate housing or subsidy size). There are also CIR ordinances that apply specifically to big-box retail stores.

What Does a Community Impact Report Assess?

  • Fiscal impacts- assesses the financial costs and benefits the project will have on a municipality, including tax revenue (e.g., will revenue increase, decrease or be shifted).
  • Employment impacts- estimates the number of jobs that will be created or eliminated by the project, and reports job quality measures including wages, benefits and accessibility.
  • Housing impacts- assesses the project’s impact on the need for both affordable and market-rate housing units, and whether the project will create additional units or eliminate existing units.
  • Neighborhood needs impacts- assesses whether the project will increase or meet demand for services and how the surrounding neighborhood might benefit from the project.
  • Smart growth impacts- assesses whether the project will make the surrounding neighborhood more livable and how the project will affect public transit. 

Benefits of Community Impact Reports

For developers

  • Provides an opportunity for developers to present both the positive and negative social and economic impacts of their projects.
  • Enables developers to receive constructive community feedback through a formalized process instead of receiving community concerns in an ad hoc way.
  • Allows developers to hear concerns in the early phases of a project and avoid costly delays that come from late requests for data or worried elected officials.

For local officials

  • Makes it easier for officials to consider all impacts—including housing, employment, fiscal, and environmental—at the beginning of a project.
  • Creates an opportunity to build a partnership with the community by actively seeking and incorporating community concerns in the decision-making process.
  • Helps officials ensure that the use of public funds will benefit the local community. 

For community members/organizations

  • Facilitates community participation in development projects by requiring public release of report findings in time for review prior to public hearings.
  • Creates a community role early in the development process.
  • Gives community members the opportunity to affect the finished development project. 

Community Impact Report Measures Currently in Effect

City of Petaluma, California 

Fiscal and Economic Impact Assessment (2008) 

This city ordinance requires developers to complete the Fiscal and Economic Impact Assessment (FEIA) process for large commercial projects—25,000 square feet or larger. The FEIA measures impacts on existing local businesses, net sales tax revenues, job quality, and wage and benefit levels.

State of Maine 

Informed Growth Act (2007) 

This state law requires developers to submit an impact report for retail stores that are 75,000 square feet or larger.

Alameda County, California 

Large Scale Retail Stores Ordinance (2006) 

The first county-level superstore ordinance, it requires that an economic analysis be completed before projects can be considered for approval. The ordinance applies to superstores that are 100,000 square feet or more with more than 10% of floor sales dedicated to non-taxable goods.

City of Los Angeles, California 

Superstores Ordinance (2004) 

This ordinance applies to proposed superstores that are 100,000 square feet or more with more than 10% of floor sales dedicated to non-taxable goods. Reporting requirements include displacement of other businesses, demolition of housing or green space, and job creation.

City of Santa Clara, California 

Large-Scale Retail Stores and Superstores Ordinance (Draft) 

This big box ordinance requires an Economic Impact Assessment (EIA) for all retail stores over 75,000 square feet. The EIA would require the developer/land owner to provide information on the project’s impact on existing retail stores, as well as job quality information and a fiscal analysis.