RE: permitting/negotiating
From: Rob Sandelin (
Date: Wed, 4 May 94 13:11 CDT
Judy  Baxter wrote :

 We (Monterey Cohousing Community) have just gone through 2 site plan 
revisions because the
Planning Commission and the Variance Board would not allow us any leeway with
our site plan, forcing lots more concrete, loss of some central green space.
our development consultant  apparently misread the City Planner with respect to
the option of any variances, plus our neighboring townhouse development came
out in force to the Variance Hearing.  Apparently that's what drove the strict
reading of when variances would be allowed...
I think the fact that the earlier situation was misread creates a sense of
uncertainly in who's judgement to trust on how much trouble the neighbors can
make.  It's a complex situation  - and it appears we are dealing with mostly
fairly rational people and a few who are just furious and want to make as much
trouble as they can.

I think there is a very interesting lesson here somewhere.  I have also 
heard similiar situations from other groups in regards to "problems" 
with the neighbors.  I have also seen groups go forward with enormous 
support from the neighbors, or at least, no overt problems. I know in 
two cases where the neighbors were supportive there was extensive 
personal outreach (door to door plus block party and other social 
events) well before the permit process even started.  I know of at 
least one group which had a lot of problems with the neighbors made no 
effort at all at personal outreach and the neighbors found out about 
the development from the hearing notice postings on the site and in the 
paper, had no idea what cohousing was so they made up their own 
visions.  Those visions were pretty extreme and way far away from 
reality, but it didn't matter what the truth was because they were 
already against the project, and some were  irrationally furious about 
it, based on those erroneous visions.

Public hearings can be a great support for you, or a nasty surprise, 
depending on what the neighbors think.  It is up to you to create what 
they think.  Most people have not a clue about what cohousing is, and 
are immediately suspicious, thinking of hippy communues, drug use, 
sexual promiscuity etc etc.  The fact that cohousing tends to attract 
college educated professionals who use big fancy words and may appear 
to scorn the "ignorant rednecks"  doesn't help.

Sharingwood is in a pretty rural part of the County and most of our 
neighbors are pretty conservative. When we began our development 
process a pair of us personally went door to door to every neighbor 
within a mile (12 houses then) and talked with them, explained in a 
friendly way what we were doing, asked if they had any concerns and 
also invited them to a small gathering of their neighbors, because we 
wanted to meet them.  We cooked up a huge barbeque (spent two weeks 
just clearing enough land to do this) and showed first hand what 
friendly neighborly folks we are and also what friendly folks they 
were.  In the process we met Jean Drake, who owns a land clearing 
business and who we hired to do much of that work for us, and also 
learned about the new cable tv company up the way, who we finagled a 
cable tv line out of. Not to mention a lot of history about the area 
and people and all the other things you learn from folks who have lived 
in an area for awhile. I think it also helped that one of our main 
ambassadors was and is one of the perkiest, nicest little old ladies 
you'd ever meet. (although if she read that description of her she'd 
probably box my ears : )

Three of the neighbors came to our hearing and totally of their own 
accord spoke in favor of the project, in glowing terms of 
neighborliness and how this kind of community sets a model example, 
etc. etc. Much much later I heard from someone who didn't really like 
what we were about but didn't say anything cause, "Everyone else was ok 
with it so I just went along", the everyone else in this case being the 
rest of his neighbors.

Its easy to be suspicious of new strangers with strange ideas and easy 
to dislike those mysterious folks from wherever doing that cohousing 
stuff.  It's harder to dislike or at least be tolerant of people  whose 
hand you've shaken and who you have had dinner with.  The old PR adage 
is very true, its up to you to mold what the neighbors think, and there 
is a point where it is too late to change the message.

Our experience would say, get out and meet your future neighbors early 
(like before you close on the site), be friendly and neighborly, and 
maybe they will see you as you really are - nice folks doing nice 
things, rather than some strange bunch of wierdo communists.

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