Strategic Opposition 1: New Tactics and Strategies to Stop Developers

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(Editor’s Note: This series looks at strategic opposition to development and a growing industry of consultants who bring new strategies to the politics of planning)

By Saint Consulting Staff

noA huge new industry in this country has grown out of land use battles to keep the competition out potential development sites. When developers find their carefully prepared planning application suddenly attacked by opponents, they may be the target of strategic opposition from competitors.

The opposition may be fueled by competitors’ desire to be the only store in town, and conducted by public relations strategists who use community outreach tactics and political campaign strategies (including “dirty tricks”) to create and foment opposition.


Strategic opposition comprises a variety of public relations, community outreach, political, and legal maneuvers whose goal is to stop your project from succeeding. These strategies and tactics are not confined to a specific type of project or property market. They can apply wherever a project is likely to stir community interest. Opposition strategies include ways to:

  • Cause disapproval of your project by public officials and boards.
  • Generate public opposition that will affect public officials, town meeting members, and local newspaper reporters and editorial writers.
  • Cause delays of your project by getting citizens to point out shortcomings in your plans or raise new issues at the last minute.
  • Demand mitigation, amenities, linkage payments, and other costs that make the project too expensive.

Opponents’ tactics can include:

1.         Forming (or funding and controlling) neighborhood organizations, citizens’ groups, taxpayers’ associations, environmental group chapters and business associations.

2.         Letter-writing campaigns to public officials and newspaper editors.

3.        Telephone (and e-mail and Internet) campaigns to public officials and neighbors.

4         Packing meetings and hearings with project opponents.

5.         Raising a wide variety of spurious issues, especially in the environmental, health and safety areas.

6.         Demanding excessive mitigation and/or linkage outlays.

7.        Exploiting mistakes or questions in the plot plan, site plan, or other project documents.

8.        Calling for a state investigation of any rumored ethical lapses or conflicts of interest by anyone even remotely connected to the project.

9.          Using parliamentary maneuvers at board meetings, council hearings, and town meetings to delay or defeat proposals.

10         Calling for a moratorium on all building pending a study.

11         Supporting litigation by abutters appealing the granting of variances, permits, or site approvals.

12         Hiring lobbyists to derail needed legislation or to draft new legislation to hurt the project

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