Whether your project involves wind, solar or communications, when it falls under local jurisdiction the fundamentals for success are the same. Best practices for zoning can be grouped into three categories: Research, Relationships and Record. In this second article of a three part series we take a look at the importance of good relationships.
Build on the foundation by giving close attention to your relationships with stakeholders and decision makers. These relationships will be the channels through which information flows — your outgoing message and incoming feedback that will either reassure or warn you.
Before you start a conversation make sure you are ready to convey enthusiasm about the project, interest in the community and a friendly, helpful manner. Cultivate a supportive relationship with planning staff by understanding the demands on them. What are their internal deadlines? What tasks do they need to complete? A thorough filing and prompt answers to their questions will pay dividends later on when you are forwarded a letter of opposition or tipped off to a board member’s concern in advance of the meeting.
Use your local assets. Your landowner’s conversations over the fence with neighbors can have a big impact in either direction. Get to know your landowners and find out what they’ve seen and heard from their neighbors. Make sure supporters are mobilized. A few words of support at a meeting from a motivated landowner, a local economic development director, or some other local stakeholder who can emphasize some of the positives of your project will get attention. These people are their friends, acquaintances, co-workers and neighbors and their comments will carry weight.
Try to identify in advance who is opposed to your project and talk with them about their concerns. Consider minor concessions or changes that will defuse their opposition. Even if you can’t make any changes, it will be appreciated by the decision makers that you made a good-faith effort to hear and address concerns.
Show respect at every opportunity. Attend neighborhood meetings. Know enough about the community to reference local landmarks and issues and pronounce names right. Don’t over or under dress (business casual usually strikes the right balance in rural to mid-sized communities). Conduct yourself as if you will be back in a year or two with another application. It can happen and you will be remembered. If the decisionmakers aren’t comfortable with you or your project there is less incentive for them to stick their neck out and make the decision you want.
Ralph Wyngarden is Zoning Director at Faulk & Foster. He has served wind and solar developers and wireless telecommunications providers in markets across the country for the past nine years and is responsible for the development and maintenance of best practices for zoning and permitting for Faulk & Foster’s telecommunications and energy departments.