RE: more permitting/negotiating
From: Rob Sandelin (
Date: Wed, 4 May 94 14:35 CDT
Judy Baxter also 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.

I have a couple of experiences which might be helpful for future groups 
planning endeavors.  It can pay to ask why a certain rule exists. For 
example, the County told us we needed to have a 28 foot paved road.  We 
asked why so big a road was required and found out they wanted on 
street parking space. We then successfully negotitated visitor parking 
in another area and reduced the road considerably.  We also did some 
creative solutions around our drainage and also some electrical issues 
by finding out why the rule or process exists and then working around 
it to meet the reason in another way which worked better for us.

Another thing which can be helpful is to have political presence.  I 
started attending the local planning commission meetings for about six 
months.  I learned the names of all the planning commissioners, talked 
with them at breaks (they were curious why someone would come and sit 
through such tediously boring stuff) and they learned about Cohousing 
from me. The chairman was interested enough that I created a package 
for him which included a two page handout generally describing 
Cohousing, several press clippings and the Cohousing book.  He 
personally came out to dinner to check us out and I am told he 
enthusiastically supports the idea to all the staff.  I also met 
several of the planning staff and got invited to a dinner where I met 
and talked to the elected  County  Commissioner that represented our 
area about "citizen initiated housing development" (Cohousing).  
Politicians love to hear about citizen initiatives and it is a good 
umbrella to quietly point out how difficult it is for citizens to do 
this because ....... Another of our members actually worked as a 
volunteer on his election campaign. All this paid off for us when he 
was able to get us an "understanding" by the director of the Planning 
department in which a couple of "minor issues" got dropped from a 
building permit requirement, issues which were major to us (number of 
parking spaces and an easement problem).  Was this unfair influence? 
possibly. Does it happen all the time with regular developers? I am 
told that this the case in our County and maybe standard procedure everywhere.

So I would recommend tasking out political liaison to someone who is a 
good smoozer, finding out who the players are, and working to create a 
friendly relationship. I have found that honest, passionate commitment 
is something that is generally respected with realm of government.  If 
the first time a planning department ever hears about Cohousing is when 
you submit your applications it might not be to your benefit.  If you 
can educate and enlist local staff people and politicians into seeing 
the benefits of Cohousing, it may make the regulatory path a little 
less onerous not only for yourself, but for everyone who comes after 
you. (Note: I don't think a hired gun like a developer would have the 
passion and interest as a regular citizen who is affected by all the 
rules has, so I don't think this is a role for a person you employ to 
help with your development management, even though they will do this 
anyway to some extent.)

I would also recommend that you send flowers, a card or some other 
small recognition to staff people when they do something nice for you.  
It seems really hokey, but we are still remembered fondly by the County 
permit checking staff from the time two years ago when we sent 3 dozen 
roses to the staff people who  made a small rule fudge which allowed us 
to file our condominium on the day we were there rather than have to 
wait for several days to get some required stamp.  Our individual 
permits take several days less time than others do and small errors get 
overlooked from the permit staff. We have also gotten word of hearings 
and rule changes that we never would have heard about.  For three dozen 
roses it has worked out to be a really good deal.

Rob Sandelin
Puget Sound Cohousing Network
Building a better society, one neighborhood at a time

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