Can You Pass The Saint Aptitude Test? Are You A Land Use Expert?

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By P. Michael Saint
Chairman and CEO
The Saint Consulting Group

Building political support for land use projects is not a simple marketing activity. You cannot win approval of a new real estate project like you would sell toothpaste or beer.

Consider, for example:

  • In Massachusetts, you need not get all your facts entered into the record before the planning board or town meeting or city council when seeking a zoning change for your real estate development or project. You can always add facts on appeal to state Superior Court. But in Connecticut, any information that you will want a court to consider, like a traffic study, must be presented in full during the deliberations of the Planning & Zoning Commission.
  • In California, CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act, may require an impact study for a new real estate development. While most developers would enter expert testimony on traffic and other impacts, the CEQA process can also be used to enter citizen letters of support or opposition to the project, and those letters can often make a difference in the outcome.
  • In some large projects, like oil refineries or potash mines, the applicant may also be required to obtain a state air quality permit or an approved federal Environmental Impact Statement. And in others, the US Army Corps of Engineers must also approve before a project can proceed.
  • When attempting to influence city councils on land use issues, in most places, no registration as a lobbyist is required and no filing of funds expended is mandated. But in all referenda battles on land use issues in the US, strict reports of spending and fund raising must be maintained and filed with government. And there may be spending limits.
  • Under the First Amendment, all citizens including corporations, have the right to Petition Government even when it is one company asking the local government to stop its competitors from obtaining land us permits to open a competing facility or store. This protection to speak out is articulated under US Supreme Court cases known as the Noerr-Pennington Doctrine.
  • In many US states, there are laws called Anti-SLAPP Suit statutes, which bar developers from filing law suits against citizens or companies who file opposition to their projects.

I mention all these things to underline the point that land use development has become a highly regulated and technical process, one that requires supporters or opponents to learn a great deal of local, state and federal law in order to be successful.

At The Saint Consulting Group, because we specialize in only running political campaigns to influence political decision making on land use projects, we require our people to constantly take courses on subjects like traffic studies, zoning, how to read a site plan, or what role the Army Corp of Engineers play in the process.

Our folks are taught all the technicalities like those listed above as part of our continuing education program that we call Saint University. Taking and passing these kinds of classes can affect compensation for our project managers. And at some point, in order to demonstrate their proficiency, they must take and pass with a score of at least 80%, the Saint Aptitude Test.

We also offer Saint University classes to outside companies, teaching subjects as what to look for when someone is trying to kill their project, or how to find political supporters to speak up for their projects. If you are interested, give me a call at 615-207-8065.

You can also test your own knowledge of land use politics by taking an abridged version of the Saint Aptitude Test at: http://saintuniversity.org/the-curriculum/take-the-test

Click here for more information about Saint University Training Programs.

P Michael Saint is chairman and CEO of The Saint Consulting Group, email msaint@tscg.biz

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