Political Voodoo in Land Use Politics

The Saint ReportNIMBY, Politicians and Planning

Voodoo DollBy Patrick Fox, President & CEO

Every commercial real estate development team is made up of experts from a variety of disciplines. Managing them and the roller coaster-like permitting process is not for the faint of heart.

With some team members, their role is clear and you can easily manage them and chart their progress. For example, the traffic engineer completes a traffic study. His mission is clear. We can see it in various stages and gauge the quality and speed at which the work is being done. When his work is finished, you can hold it in your hands and point to it. It is not so easy to manage the campaign consultants whose job is winning approvals whether it’s a referendum or a vote of a local board.

How do you track progress? How do you know if your strategy is working and how effective your consultants are being? When you get to the end of the process and lose the vote, it’s too late to fix it and all the time and money it took to get you there are lost.

Some will tell you it is the difference between an art (politics) and science (engineering) but that’s not entirely true. Don’t be distracted by the mysterious voodoo that they do. Campaign professionals are a dime a dozen. Anyone can hang out a shingle and claim this expertise and the problem is, many do. Politics, public relations, advertising, survey research, branding, social media, salesmanship, organizational management, database management and a myriad of other skills are part of the mix and broad experience is essential.

Hiring the guy who knows a guy will not cut it. Whether it’s a full-fledged referendum vote, moving swing board votes with constituent pressure or simply providing political support so officials won’t be faced with political suicide by supporting your project in the face of NIMBY hoards, you need to be able to manage and execute a comprehensive political strategy.