By Patrick Fox,
President, The Saint Consulting Group, and staff
Opponents to development are getting more and more sophisticated. Whether your opponents are neighbors angry or frightened over how your project will impact them or professional organizers paid by your competitors to stir up trouble, they are getting better at using systems and bureaucracy to their advantage.
Strategic opposition comprises a variety of public relations, community outreach, political, and legal maneuvers whose goal is to stop your project from succeeding.
Strategies include ways to:
A. Cause disapproval of your project by public officials and boards.
B. Generate public opposition that will affect public officials, town meeting members, and local newspaper reporters and editorial writers.
C. Cause delays of your project by getting citizens to point out shortcomings in your plans or raise new issues at the last minute.
D. Demand mitigation, amenities, linkage payments, and other costs that make the project too expensive.
Tactics can include:
A. Forming (or funding and controlling) neighborhood organizations, citizens’ groups, taxpayers’ associations, environmental group chapters and business associations.
B. Letter-writing campaigns to public officials and newspaper editors.
C. Telephone (and e-mail and Internet) campaigns to public officials and neighbors.
D Packing meetings and hearings with project opponents.
E. Raising a wide variety of spurious issues, especially in the environmental, health and safety areas.
F. Demanding excessive mitigation and/or linkage outlays.
G. Exploiting mistakes or questions in the plot plan, site plan, or other project documents.
H. Calling for a state investigation of any rumored ethical lapses or conflicts of interest by anyone even remotely connected to the project.
I. Using parliamentary maneuvers at board meetings, council hearings, and town meetings to delay or defeat proposals.
J. Calling for a moratorium on all building pending a study.
K. Supporting litigation by abutters appealing the granting of variances, permits, or site approvals.
L. Hiring lobbyists to derail needed legislation or to draft new legislation to hurt the project
Competitors engaging in strategic opposition are generally invisible to the public; their operations are private; their objectives are cloaked; and their consultants and operatives always attack from the high moral ground.
They never admit that they oppose the project because it means competition. Instead, they find a solid, community-based, politically correct, high moral ground on which to stand, tailored to the situation and the concerns in the area.
It would be useless to complain about traffic if there are no residential neighbors. In such a case, the strategic opponent might suggest to a citizens’ group that they raise some of the following issues:
A. Environmental concerns (extent of impervious surface; runoff into reservoirs; air pollution from auto exhaust; wetlands endangerment; on-site water recycling system and solar heat).
B. Mitigation improvements to save the city money (traffic lights, street widening, interchange re-configuring, handicapped ramps; queuing lanes).
C. Linkage fees to assuage the hurt feelings of neighbors (green space set-asides; building a park; contributing to the playground fund; donating land to the city).
D. Construction practices (commitments to build with union contractors and subs, and all union labor; limited construction hours; neighborhood advisory and monitoring committee).
The strategic planner nearly always finds it easy to locate a citizens’ group opposed to a project, or else he creates one, using annoyed neighbors as the core.
Developers who do their homework can identify and neutralize neighborhood opposition early (before your competitor even knows you’re in town)
Developers who keep public officials informed and work to achieve a neighborhood consensus, will find it easier to avoid strategic opposition manipulation.
Patrick Fox is president of The Saint Consulting Group, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 781 836 4163