Don’t leave out political due diligence in land use decisions

The Saint ReportNIMBY, Planning and Zoning, Referendum/initiative, saintblog

By Patrick Fox,
President, The Saint Consulting Group 

Any company making decisions about a commercial real estate deal does a lot of due diligence.  They study demographics, market share, infrastructure, and deal financials among other things.  What too many still fail to do is a political due diligence.  All land use decision are political and the question needs to be asked – Is it politically feasible to get this project approved?

Here are some favorite stories of those who skipped this step.  Add some of your favorites.

After three years of trying to get a retail outlet built in an east coast city to no avail, the developer asked us to take a look at the project.  We quickly discovered that the mayor hated the retailer’s local lawyer and City Hall would never approve anything this guy was involved in.  New lawyer hired- project is quickly approved.  Three years and lots of money lost.

Another developer had a large-scale retail project that he had been trying to get approved for a couple of years.  Come to find out that the Speaker of the House’s mother lived across the street from the site.  The Speaker grew up there.  The project was never going to happen and all efforts and resources were wasted on this one.

A grocery chain wants to locate in a small city.  There is support from the city council president to locate the new store in an old high school currently being used as a regional cultural center.  Kids take lessons there. Community groups have meetings there.  The auditorium is often used for performances by local groups.  Several non-profits rent space.  Our project manager talks to the mayor about the project and he says he loves the idea.  The city cannot afford to maintain the old building and the proposed investment in the heart of the small city is just what they need.  Can we get a statement of support from him? NO.  Will he speak in favor at a community meeting?  No.  Will he explain to a reporter how the financial burden is crippling the city? No.  “Are you crazy!  They would throw me out of office if I did anyone of those things but I wish you luck.  It’s a great project.”  There was no way this store was ever going to be built and a quick political due diligence would have saved a lot of time and money.

We have countless examples.  Tell us some of yours.

Patrick Fox is president of The Saint Consulting Group, email fox@tscg.biz, phone 781 749 7290