By Jay Vincent
Regional Vice President – Midwest, The Saint Consulting Group
Our client wanted to construct a 275-acre, $175 million educational theme park on a site previously used as farmland. The project required Planned Unit Development (PUD) approval by the County Commission. The developer was also seeking Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to fund road improvements and sewer connections. Immediately though, a well-organized opposition group formed prior to submission of site plans, objecting to the project’s proximity to their neighborhood, increased traffic and noise, and noncompliance with the Community Land Use Plan.
Over a 12-month period, opponents collected more than 3,000 signatures on petitions against the project. The opposition’s early successes resulted in the County Planning and Zoning Committee recommending rejection of the application.
Following the defeat at Planning and Zoning, we were brought in to help secure final approval of the PUD and TIF by the County Commission.
With the opposition so firmly entrenched in the community we knew we needed to mount a door-to-door campaign to speak with abutting and nearby residents to understand their concerns and to identify supporters. Once that was complete we knew how to develop a grassroots coalition across each County Commission District to apply pressure in support of the project on each commission member. We then used this coalition to generate a letter writing campaign to commission members, the mayor, and the media. All of this was designed to build a neighborhood support group which grew to more than 140 residents.
This group was the lynchpin to our client’s success. With our assistance, the group staged a media event and rally in support of the project. We also helped them collect over 85 personal letters from abutters and local neighbors addressed to members of the County Commission; circulating a petition of support; and turning out more than 50 speakers for public hearings.
We also thought organizing a coalition of small business owners throughout the county was necessary to give the County Commissioners cover to vote for the project. This coalition enlisted the formal support of eighteen small business members and began a petition drive to grow the organization.
Before the proposal went before the County Commission, we ran radio and newspaper ads to generate supporter turnout to the event. We also put together a job fair to highlight the economic impact of the project. Over 200 applications were received and considerable favorable press coverage from all media outlets.
When the time came for a vote before the County Commission, we matched the opposition speakers virtually one-for-one, and gave political cover to commission members who had previously voiced their support quietly.
The result: We secured a majority vote of 12-9 in favor of the project.
Jay Vincent is regional vice president, Midwest, for The Saint Consulting Group, email:firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 312 212 8889