Credibility? Developers don’t have any, only a target on your back

The Saint ReportEnvironmental Planning, Planning and Zoning, Politicians and Planning, Property Development, Saint Index, saintblog, Urban planning

By Patrick Fox,
President, The Saint Consulting Group

No matter how good you are or how many times you have gone above and beyond to ensure your projects are designed and built to the highest standards, you come to town with a target on your back.  No matter how many times you have made commitments to neighbors and local officials and followed through on them, many will never trust you.  You are a developer.  They know why you are here and what you want.  Their defenses are up and they are ready to fight.

In this age of social networking and internet access to all the information all the time, bad developers are in big trouble.  Shortcuts made on projects here are heard about everywhere.  Commitments made and not lived up to on your east coast project are going to be used to defeat you on your west coast project.  There is no place to hide.

Even the best developers with solid reputations have to deal with the fact that the public is increasingly cynical and ready to fight.  74% of all Americans are saying no to any new development in their communities- That’s no to everything!  This is the handicap that every developer starts with.  Nearly 70% believe that the relationship between developers and elected officials makes the entire process unfair.  A staggering one in five Americans have actively opposed a project in their community meaning they have gathered petition signatures, called officials or demonstrated their opposition by attending hearings.

After 20 years of media showing residents fighting big box development and winning, everyone believes they can fight and win.  The old saying “You can’t fight progress or city hall” is out the window.  Yes you can and everyone knows it.

Local officials are feeling the heat.  No longer do they push for economic development to bring in jobs and taxes.  Now they stand with the opponents and fight development.  87% of Americans believe that a candidates position on growth is important when they decide for whom they will vote.  The people supporting development don’t tend to show up at hearings.  Anger and fear are much stronger motivations.

The system is completely out of balance and it leans heavily in favor of the opposition.  Convincing local politicians to support your project in the face of angry constituents is a real challenge.  You still need to do all the right things in terms of building responsibly, conducting due diligence and outreach to neighbors but that’s not enough.  You also need to be able to demonstrate support- local constituent support.  You need to show that supporting your project is not political suicide.

A developer cannot get by on reputation any more.  The angry constituents have a great deal more influence over the actions of these local officials than any reasoned argument from a developer.  The best defense is to have local residents stand up and make your case for you.  They have the credibility you need and the power to really influence the approvals process.

Patrick Fox is president of The Saint Consulting Group, email, phone 781 749 7290