Saint Model Outcome – politics of planning wins referendum to protect development

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By Jay Vincent,
Regional Vice President – Midwest, The Saint Consulting Group

ballotIn our continuing series of Saint Model Outcomes, this case study looks at retail redevelopment and campaigning against an opposition referendum.

Our client filed plans to build a retail complex with a 65,000-SF anchor, along with various retail out-parcels of 20,000-SF. The site slated for this expansion was an open field at the center of a resort community of 12,000 residents, where development had traditionally been small-scale. A citizens group, funded by our client’s competitor, circulated a petition and filed a zoning petition to limit commercial buildings to 35,000-SF. The petition was allowed onto the ballot for a town-wide referendum.

As a reaction to the call for limiting retail, the local board of selectmen sponsored another ballot initiative to limit retail development to 65,000-SF. Our client hired us to defeat the anti-development initiative only one month before the January referendum. We initiated an intensive community outreach program during the holiday season – a time when residents were preoccupied with other matters.

We began by recruiting and establishing a steering committee to campaign against the organized and well-funded opposition group. Under our direction, members of the community became the public face of the campaign. We then conducted a poll to determine how best to convince local residents that the proposed development would not destroy the character of their town.

Given the time constraints, we focused our energies on just one referendum issue – the proposal to limit businesses to 35,000-SF. The selectmen’s initiative, if approved, would not have affected the size of the developer’s proposed store. Based on the poll results, we developed a media schedule and campaign, which included the production and placement of TV, radio, and newspaper advertisements, a direct mail program, a letters-to-the-editor program, and large public signs.

In order to identify our supporters and to persuade undecided voters, we also conducted a grassroots outreach program. This effort included phone calls and door-to-door visits.
On the day of the referendum, we leveraged that activity by conducting a “get out the vote” effort to make sure our supporters turned out in full force.

On Election Day, the competitor’s ballot initiative to limit retail to 35,000-SF failed by a margin of 61% to 39%. The selectmen’s ballot initiative to limit retail to 65,000-SF failed by a margin of 52% to 48%.

The result: leveraging the support base we organized in the referendum campaign, our client won approval and built the retail complex.

Jay Vincent is regional vice president, Midwest, for The Saint Consulting Group,, phone 312 212 8889

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