MYTH #3: Changing the minds of opponents is the key to winning approvals.

Meeting with confirmed NIMBYs (Not in My Back Yard) or other project opponents is often helpful or required by local officials, but the bulk of your community outreach resources should be dedicated to communicating with potential supporters.

Why? Because while transforming opponents into supporters may be feasible, it’s nearly always a long and difficult process. It’s usually more fruitful to focus primarily on contacting and recruiting supporters from among those with a natural affinity for your proposed land use.

The first people to contact in the community typically are the low-hanging fruit – contractors, construction workers, suppliers, future project users and others who stand to benefit directly from the project.

Let’s look at a real-life example, an affordable housing project located near one of California’s most affluent communities. My firm, GCA Strategies, was retained to help win community support for a proposal to provide subsidized rental housing for large families with low incomes.

To accomplish this, we contacted and mobilized hundreds of potential project users – all prospective tenants with large families – to sign petitions and speak at public hearings. These hard-working family members told heart-rending stories of their inability to find affordable homes close to work, and of amazingly long commutes and time spent away from their children. This support, along with backing elicited from the business community for work-force housing, helped win project approval in the face of determined NIMBY opposition. Not only did the City Council vote for entitlements, but it also approved more than $3 million in city loans for affordable housing.

Now back to your project: after contacting direct beneficiaries, you may next want to outreach to indirect beneficiaries such as realtors, local merchants, or Chambers of Commerce. This broader audience consists of those who may hope to benefit from increased business, higher property values, street improvements, or other advantages resulting from a commercial or residential project. Once a strong base of support has been established, then you can proceed to seek out other neighbors and community leaders whose support may be more problematic.

As for confirmed NIMBYS or others who have already expressed opposition to a project, the likelihood of changing their minds may be remote, though you may be able to mute or minimize opposition. While that doesn’t mean you should ignore or refuse to meet with opponents (see below), you should spend most of your outreach resources where they are most likely to bear fruit.

Frank Noto

About Frank Noto

Frank Noto is president of GCA Strategies, which helps mobilize community and governmental support for controversial land use projects. The firm has successfully assisted clients from Maui to Maryland to overcome NIMBY opposition and win local real estate entitlements. For more information, contact him at fnoto@GCAStrategies.com or (415) 834-5645, or see the GCA website at www.gcastrategies.com.

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