Strategic Opposition, Part 2: killing real estate projects is a huge industry

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(Editor’s Note: The Saint Report has explored the changing landscape of real estate development and evolution of land use politics. In this series, we look at strategic opposition to development and a growing industry of consultants who bring new strategies to the politics of planning)

By Saint Consulting Staff

In the old days, one of the ways to quiet noisy opponents was to sue them for tortious interference and defamation of character.  These lawsuits, known as Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPP), were intended to inflict such time and legal expense on citizen opponents that they or other potential opponents would be cowed into silence.

But having a reputation as an arrogant corporate bully who sues average citizens is certainly not helpful when you’re asking the Zoning Board of Appeals for a variance.  And with more and more states adopting anti-SLAPP statutes, the use of the SLAPP suit is declining. The result is that citizen activists no longer feel threatened and have grown more vigorous. And the professional opposition industry — free of the threat that their agents will be sued — is flourishing.

Keeping out the competition is a huge industry in this country, 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.

It’s done mostly on the sly, because most people don’t give much credibility to what one competitor says about another. They also realize that it doesn’t help them to get caught pulling dirty tricks on one another.

The basis for strategic opposition is economic, as well as strategic.  If your new 65,000 square foot superstore is going to generate $600 per square foot, you are going to gross $39 million — and a good portion of that money is going to come from customers leaving my store for yours.

What’s more, if I’m a big operator fighting for market share, it may be important for me to keep you from growing while I’m working on my own growth — especially if I’m trying to maximize my value for a buyout or IPO, and particularly if Wall Street is watching how I’m handling my debt service a bit too closely.

So if I can defeat your store, and keep it from ever being built, I’ll keep my business and build more.  Hopefully I can keep you from eroding my gross, and give my real estate department time to find a site right across the street from yours.

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