Updated April 9, 2012
The following are rules of thumb that have been learned by neighbors addressing development projects, in no particular order:
- Notify Your Neighbors
It is likely that very few of your neighbors know about a new development proposal. The first thing to do is tell them about it, so you can get help in the battle. Leafleting is a good start. The first time around take the time to knock on people's doors and tell them if they are home. Make sure to briefly describe the proposal, why they should be concerned and provide a contact point: phone and email is good. If you have a neighborhood directory, calling also is useful, particularly if you know people who are interested in this sort of thing.
- Understand What Is Being Proposed And What It's Weaknesses Are
Someone in your group is going to have to study the developer's application, the zoning regulations, and the Master Plan. You cannot depend on what the developer or his consultants say. Usually, you can find gaping holes and errors. If it requires a re-zoning or a conditional use permit (special use permit), be sure you understand exactly why this is the case. This is usually a good starting point to understand what is wrong with the proposal from a planning point of view. This understanding is what you need when you lobby officials.
- Be accurate - bad information will haunt you
Your opponents in a development project will use any misinformation you provide to erode your influence. If you make a mistake and the developer finds out, the decision makers will find out too. Of course, you should correct any mistakes or misleading statements the developer makes.
- Don't hold back information
You will always be torn between using new, important information - knowing that your opponents will get a chance to counter it - or trying to hold onto it until the last moment. If you've got good information, use it immediately to lobby planners, zoners, and governing body members. That is your most powerful move. If you get it to them before they have made up their minds, you might influence them. If you bring up late, they are more likely to dismiss it if it conflicts with their opinions.
- Start lobbying early - the battle may be over before the meeting begins.
In development battles there are 3 different groups you want to educate and want to have good relationships with:
- City or County Planners
- Members of a Planning Commission or Zoning Board
- Members of the Governing Body
By the time a zoning board or governing body holds a meeting, they may have made up their mind about what they are going to do. You should have contacted them well before the meeting, met with them, provided them with help in coming to a decision. The crowd you get to the meeting demonstrates to your supporters on the government body that you have credibility, that people really care, that you are not just representing yourself.
If you provide credible information to the Planners and you have a good relationship with the Planners, your information will be used. Maintaining a good relationship with Planners is smart and very helpful to all concerned. It is good to suggest to planners that they hire their own independent consultants to review information submitted by the developer's consultants. This then gives you the opportunity to provide your own findings of error to a neutral party who can confirm or deny them.
- Rezoning Can Mean A Large Windfall Profit
One neighborhood battle turned out to be a perfect case for calculating just how much money per acre is involved in a re-zoning. The answer: double or triple your money in under a year. In fact, if you use a mortgage to leverage your investment, you can get a return of 20 times what you invested. This is why there are intense battles to upzone land and why land is rarely downzoned.
In this case an investment group contracted to buy a 31 acre tract on the border between Johnson County, unincorporated, and Overland Park, KS. The land was Master Planned for Residential zoning.
The purchase price was well under $3 million, which for 31 acres is the low to middle range for residential pricing in the area.
The group asked for the most intense retail commercial zoning in the County, PRB-3, rather than the residential that was planned.
Because of difficulty in getting the re-zoning over neighbors' wishes and the terms of the contract, the investment group was forced to buy the land before re-zoning was approved. A mortgage was obtained for $1.2 million.
As part of the argument for re-zoning the land, the investment group provided an appraisal showing that with re-zoning, the land would be worth $10 million. This figure appeared to be pretty reasonable for commercial property, under $7.50 a square foot.
So, a single re-zoning converting land from residential to commercial would have generated a windfall profit of well over $7 million on a 31 acre tract. Assuming the investment group put up principal of $350,000, they would have gotten 20 times their initial investment back by selling the land after re-zoning. That is a 1900% profit.
- [In Kansas] Try For A Legal Protest Petition - This Can Be Critically Important And You Have Little Time
In Kansas, a valid Legal Protest Petition means that 75% of the governing body must vote in favor of a proposal to pass it, instead of a simple majority. A legal protest petition can only be turned in within the 2 weeks after the first meeting of the Zoning Board (or Planning Commission). It can only be used to fight re-zonings, Conditional Use Permits, or, in Overland Park, plans that are so different from the original that it is treated like a re-zoning.
To be valid, the petition must have the signatures of the owners of 20% of the acreage within 1,000 feet of the development property for County development, or within 200 feet for City development. For property at the border, the City extends the petition area 1000 feet into the County, while the County extends the petition area 1000 feet into the City. This article describes in detail what is needed.
- [In Kansas] Some Traffic Rules Of Thumb
The increased traffic is often a major reason for not wanting a new development. Here are some rules of thumb, with the usual caveats about how things vary from project to project.
Roughly speaking, 11,000 - 15,000 extra car trips at an intersection requires the building of two extra lanes in addition to whatever lanes are already needed, preferably for a mile in every direction. If you need two lanes today and add a 200,000 sq ft retail center that generates 11,000 trips, you need 4 lanes; if you already have 4, you need 6; if you already have 6, you need 8.
Johnson County and the City of Overland Park, KS have slightly different "trigger points" for considering the addition of new lanes.
- (Trigger points for road improvements for Johnson County: 7,500 to 9,000 cars a day requires a 4-lane road; 20,000+ cars a day requires a 6-lane road. Source: Brian Pietig, County Traffic Engineer)
- Overland Park trigger standards: 10,000 cars a day require 3 lane roads; 10,000-25,000 cars a day require 4-lane roads; 25,000+ and above require 6-lane roads. ( Source: Norm Bowers, County Engineer from conversation with Overland Park Traffic Dept.) 45,000 requires an 8 lane road (OP City Map).