RE: rezoning and permits: advice
From: Rob Sandelin (Exchange) (
Date: Thu, 25 Jan 1996 11:14:04 -0600
Rachel Freifelder wrote about planning for an ecological village and was
concerned about zoning.

If you are serious about your plans then you should be talking with planning
officials from the local municipality.  These folks can be HUGE resources to
help you figure out the practical details, and if they find you reasonable,
they may very well be the folks who can give the best advice about changing
the zoning code.  It is to your advantage to contact the local planning
department and arrange a review of your plans.  Get to know who the players
are, the name of the director or head of  planning, the staff people.  To
pull off a large scale project, you have to work pretty close with these
folks, and if they are on your side, then it will be much easier to make the
project into reality.

For guidance in changing the zoning, look into  how many  rezones have
happened in the last five years of the type you are looking for.  Be nice to
the clerks in the planning office and they can give you lots of good
information.  When someone in the planning department does something nice
for you, recognize that with flowers or a complementary letter to their
boss.  The staff people are ones who do the work, know the details, and
frankly, get a lot of rude abuse from builders and such.  Investing $50 in
flowers for staff people, on a $10,000,000 project is a smart move.

Find out who is doing large development projects in the area you want to
work in and try and get the development companies planner to talk with you. 
Sometimes these folks will give you lots and lots of incredable advise for
the price of a steak dinner.  Successful developers understand the process
and how to work it, that's why they are successful, and you can learn a lot
from those folks, even if you find them distasteful. If you have someone in
your group who is a good smoosher, that's the person to recruit for the
task.  You might even find a development company that you can partner with. 
Turning eco-village dreams into reality requires huge amounts of capital,
something that successful developers know all about and have access to.  I
had lunch the other day with a developer and he bragged that he had a 2
million dollar credit limit!  

Like it or not, developing an eco-village makes you a developer, and all the
realities of that role apply.  If you can partner with a low-income housing
organization that has a track record, you might get some nice breaks in the
zoning and planning stuff.  Non-profit development is a mystery to most
planning departments, but non-profit - low-income housing is not.

Finally, spend some time getting in the political system.  Is there a
planning commission or some such advisory board? If so, sent someone to
attend their meetings.  What's the local political system?  Again, attend
the meetings, get to know the names and personalities.  I attended the local
planning commission meetings for quite some time, and discovered some
amazing things which helped a group of folks who were opposed to a large
development succeed.  I was an "insider" and the developer was an "outsider"
and that made all the difference in the outcome.

Rob Sandelin

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