Seven Insights Gained from 30 Years of Land Use Permitting Battles

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By Mike Saint, The Saint Consulting Group

Mike-SaintWhen someone asks why land use battles need a campaign strategy and tactics to win, seven points come to mind:

1)  All land use approvals are political. Those charged with granting permissions are not swayed by arguments relating to science, engineering, architecture, jobs or taxes as much as by the perceived potential political ramifications on the decision maker who approves the project.

2)   The political climate for approvals is getting worse. Saint Index polling shows increasing percentages of people OPPOSE ALL NEW DEVELOPMENT in their neighborhoods.
3)   There are generally four types of opposition: a) Not In MY Backyard (NIMBY’s) who fear the project will cause them harm, by lowering their property values or clogging their streets with traffic; b) labor unions who want to gain leverage in negotiations for union contracts; c) competitors who want to protect their gross profit margins and d) environmentalists, preservationists and others whose personal beliefs and value systems do not approve of the type of development proposed, eg. fracking, power plants, etc.
4)   All opponents are usually emotional and passionate in their opposition and seldom can be dissuaded by arguments relying on facts or logic. They show up to voice their anger while project supporters are rarely passionate and therefore usually do not participate in the political process unless actively recruited.
5)   The old ways of winning approvals – such as using relationships with the mayor, marketing campaigns and political fixers – are less and less effective as the size of the opposition groups grow, infusing fear in the minds of the political decision makers.
6)   Opposition to new development can now be as effective against government-sponsored projects – like mass transit and redevelopment – as against private plans. Mayors and governors who want their land use proposals to be approved had better recruit citizen supporters to participate.
7)   To win a land use battle one must consider the project to be like a candidate and then create and implement a winning campaign strategy to “elect” that project. Polling, petitioning, grassroots organizing, packing meetings, lawn signs, supporter databases, social media, telephone town halls, video petitions and other political campaign tools should be used to identify, educate, organize and harness the political power of real voters who want the project built.
Mike Saint is chairman, CEO and founder of The Saint Consulting Group, email:

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