Neighborhood Opposition

Neighborhood Opposition: Faux or Real

An army of red shirts. Yellow slogan pin-buttons. Protest signs and opposition websites. Professional, paid opposition organizers. Legal counsel. Facebook and Twitter pages. These efforts describe the recent increase in opposition to infill redevelopment, rezoning, and community planning.

Neighborhood outreach and citizen involvement is a bedrock principle in the development process. Cities and counties generally require some form of community outreach and smart developers often engage neighborhood involvement early in the process. However, the recent increase in project opposition and the new methods employed require serious pause and study.

By ordinance, local jurisdictions requires developers to notify and meet with neighbors for a variety of property entitlements such as general plan amendments, rezoning, site plan approval, variances, use permits, and more. The garish signs, which advertise upcoming zoning hearings, are a signal to neighbors that a piece of property could be redeveloped. Notice letters to nearby property owners indicate the potential transformation of a vacant lot, undisturbed desert landscape, or empty buildings which could become the next residential community or shopping center.

While rezoning and development opposition is a delicate balance in most land use cases, two new trends highlight the increasing difficulty of obtaining successful zoning entitlements and project development: social media and paid professional opposition.

With the advent of social media, working with neighbors and community activists is becoming more and more difficult. While the distribution of information is always encouraged, the instant activities on social media sites often lead to inaccurate information, provocation, and panic-stoking. Anonymity on websites and blogs encourage a race to zing the developer and secure “likes” rather than identify problems and possible solutions. Just as the old telephone game is played, partial mistruths and inaccurate facts hazardously spread like wildfire, further fanning the flames.

Paid opposition consultants are partly to blame. Rarely do they represent the true neighborhood sentiment. Rather, they work at the bidding of a competing development project or property owner as Withey Morris saw firsthand with the opposition to Z’Tejas in Phoenix by another competitor restaurant. Their efforts are easily recognizable: paid petition circulators, neighborhood walkers, instant websites, and fill-in-the-blank organization names likes “Concerned Citizens of _______” (insert local municipality). The sincerity of their cause extends as far as the checkbook that hires such manufactured opposition.

How should development proceed? First, discernment is key in conducting neighborhood outreach. Recognizing real neighborhood concerns cannot be overstated. By focusing on the real issues and actual stakeholders, concerns can be addressed and a joint-compromise can be attained. Professional opponents and manufactured opposition can be neutralized by identifying the actual stakeholders and working together on common ground.

Second, engage the neighborhood early and often. Establishing genuine relationships with key stakeholders will go a long way in working together to achieve a successful development.

Third, associating with a respected land use and zoning counsel from the project outset is paramount. Their experience and expertise is shaped by years of development projects, city relationships, and community outreach. Together, they set forth a collaborative and strategic neighborhood outreach plan that anticipates real neighborhood issues and discerns against faux-opposition.

Community outreach is integral to any successful development. Finding common ground with individuals and property owners most affected by development is key to securing community support. With the right development and zoning team in place, neighborhood support is possible, and development will succeed.


Adam Baugh, Withey Morris, PLC