Help me, help you – reaching out to community helps developers

The Saint ReportPoliticians and Planning, Property Development, saintblog, Urban planning0 Comments

By Jay Vincent,
Senior Vice President for Energy, The Saint Consulting Group

Tom Cruise“Help me, Help You”

Although the line from Jerry MaGuire is humorous, there is nothing funny about the importance of working with communities and taking those steps to mitigate problems with a land use application that is feasible and responsible.  In many cases, developers can’t accommodate every request from neighbors to make their project more palatable.  In others, NIMBYs just want to prop up multiple issues to delay and detract from overwhelming benefits. Such stall tactics make pursuit of the application cost prohibitive, especially when financing of those projects is more tenuous in a tough economy.

However, in some cases you can and should accommodate neighbors and their issues.  There are times when developers don’t, and often that becomes the number one reason local residents and their elected official vote down their application. Nothing reminded me of this more than a recent conversation I had with a Midwest farmer who was concerned about a wind farm coming to his community.  He sounded reasonable and resolved to the fact that the application was going to be approved and not necessarily hostile to the fact.  He was concerned mostly about property devaluation and was interested in first getting the right information about property values and wind farms and then trying to work out some accommodation.  Understandable, and an issue that commonly is discussed while municipalities debate special use permits for wind farms.

There was one other issue.  One that he sounded more passionate about – the safety of the crop dusters utilizing the local airstrip. This particular developer was unwilling to light their meteorological tower at the end of the runway and the fact that when the farmer showed up to discuss it, he was “thrown out” of the developer’s office.  This was a surprise to me (OK, I’ve seen worse from some non-wind developers), given my positive experience with wind developers in proactively dealing with stakeholders.   However, there are always exceptions and instances that the antis can plug up onto the web, circulate and point to as if they were the rule.

Since passion drives action, action drives politics and politics determines land use votes, examples such as these create problems.  I am sure there may be more to this story but it struck me as one of those cases in our consulting business where we shake our heads and think of all of those times where simple measures and the right approach could create an advocate instead of an opponent.  At the very least, when you can get certain parties to remain neutral or agree that you’ve dealt with them responsibly despite still having concerns, that’s a win.  We’ve been called into numerous projects where we were asked to clean up messes like these.  Our first call of business when scoping out our new project and client is to recommend a change in outreach methodology and point out the offerings that can be made where wise and within budget.

Whether you think you can make any changes to your application or feel that those who oppose you are completely irrational, don’t take the bait, ignore opponents, or allow yourself to be perceived as unreasonable.  You may be the one paying for it.

Jay Vincent is senior vice president for energy for The Saint Consulting Group, email: vincent@tscg.biz and phone is 312.970.5770 Ext: 7502

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