Lessons for developers in community relations and planning from bruising Phoenix fight

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By Owen Eagan
Division Manager, Southern California, The Saint Consulting Group

greenway-tatum.jpgA small shopping development in Phoenix, Arizona, has bruised community feelings where neighbors feel the city did not listen, the developer did not compromise and their elected representatives failed them. There are several important take-aways for developers from this project.

First, it’s not surprising that neighbors organized to oppose this project, despite the project’s scale. According to the Saint Index, Saint Consulting’s annual survey on attitudes towards land use and development, Americans are now twice as likely to actively oppose a real estate development project as to support one and 73% do not want anything new built in their communities at all.

Second, it’s not surprising that the neighbors feel that their elected representatives failed them, despite the fact that the neighbors had an impact on this project. The Saint Index indicates that 75% of Americans believe the relationship between elected officials and developers makes the public approvals process unfair. This is significant because even before a project is considered this predisposition motivates residents to become engaged in the process.

Third, Margaret Mead’s often-repeated adage about a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens still holds true. In fact, this adage is so often repeated because it is demonstrated time and time again. Therefore, if developers fail to do their homework and assess the political landscape before going forward with their project proposals, they are likely to encounter costly delays, significant alterations to their plans, or even outright denial of their development applications.

Click here for Michael Clancy’s report in The Arizona Republic.

Owen Eagan is a division manager in Southern California for The Saint Consulting Group, email eagan@tscg.co.uk, phone 818 827-7127

3 Comments on “Lessons for developers in community relations and planning from bruising Phoenix fight”

  1. When are we going to hear something about ‘good’ or ‘appropriate’ development from Saint? As much as you all rail against NIMBYism, it is typically conservative interests (not the elusive ‘suburban liberals’ – a group that any pollster will tell you doesn’t exist) that block development in and around our communities. What I think most in the planning and design communities would like to hear from Saint is some discussion of appropriate or contextual development and infill, versus sprawl. How ’bout it?

  2. Thanks for your post.

    Good or appropriate development is highly subjective. What is good for one community is a disaster for another. One community needs a grocery store while another would be destroyed by one. Successful developers today are working with neighbors and local activists before filing a plan. They are asking about how they can ensure that their project benefits and enhances a community and not just pushing through a cookie cutter plan.

    The problem is this. There is now opposition to everything. Good projects die every day. Being good, smart, green or needed is not enough. Angry and scared neighbors are coming out to oppose you regardless of community benefit and your supporters (regardless of how many there are even if they represent the vast majority of residents) are not giving up their Tuesday night to sit in Town Hall and speak for the project. Meanwhile all of the opponents are coming. They are terrified that you are about to destroy their real estate values, double their commute to work and change forever the character of their community. Local officials who look out at an audience packed with opponents are highly unlikely to commit political suicide for any development project.

    Thirty years ago people said “You can’t fight City Hall.” They thought progress and development were inevitable and they were powerless to fight it. Since then we have seen 30 years of Wal-Mart fights all across America where citizens have fought back and won. These highly publicized fights have changed things. People now know that they can fight and win, and this has dramatically changed development in the US. This Wal-Mart Effect has changed the political dynamic that determines what gets built. It is no longer sound political strategy for elected or appointed officials to support new development. The jobs and tax revenue arguments have been completely overshadowed by the specter of neighborhood opposition. It is now more politically expedient for politicians to stand with the angry, passionate and motivated neighbors in opposition to development. We have seen local governments completely turnover due to development issues voting out their entire local government and replacing them with no-growth anti-development candidates.
    Having a good or appropriate development isn’t enough. All land use is political, and developers who cannot build and leverage political support for a project are more and more likely to lose.

    Patrick Fox


    Saint Consulting Group

  3. NIMBY’s are neither Liberal nor Conservative in the political sense.

    Based on years of polling in the US and in the UK, we find those most likely to oppose development describe themselves as politically moderate. They are also homeowners, most apt to live on the east and west coasts of the US, have college educations, are middle-aged, male, live in suburban areas and have family incomes in excess of $100,000.

    NIMBY’s then are usually those who have achieved some material success and are worried that new development will put that success at risk. Fearing development will hurt them, they fight it. We have seen Republicans and Conservatives fight against development but we have also seen Liberals and Democrats fight to stop development as well.

    P. Michael Saint

    Chairman and CEO

    The Saint Consulting Group

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