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10 Things About Working With Community Groups

July 2020

How to get your project through local approvals.

1. Engage Early

The key to sincerely building a rapport with community groups is to engage early. The earlier you engage, the more of their input you can potentially incorporate. By the time you’ve underwritten a concept and obtained investment approvals, it becomes much more difficult to make meaningful changes.

2. Do Your Research

Naturally, you’ll thoroughly scout the area and its demographic as part of the due-diligence process. While doing this research you’ll also learn which community groups hold the most influence. The development process involves a lot of tradeoffs, so it’s critical to focus on the opinions of the community groups that represent the majority of opinion.

3. Don't Ruffle Feathers

Remember, you’re developing in their back yard.  Be a gracious partner rather than an infringing bully. Particularly at the outset, soak in everything the community group has to say and take note of what’s truly important to them.

4. Be Transparent

While focusing on the triple bottom line, developers still must maintain the financial viability of the opportunity.  Be transparent to neighborhood groups about the levers you have to work with—those that can be pulled and those that cannot. Be sincere with them about the degree to which you can accommodate their ideas

5. Be Sincere  

Sincerity is absolutely essential. One quick meeting with a community group might check the box, but you won’t build trust or garner useful collaboration. Meet with stakeholders and host focus groups to solicit their thoughts. Hold town hall-style events to solicit feedback about  your plans and address any questions. Demonstrate that you are working with them to establish a sincere relationship built on mutual trust.

6. Be Flexible

Think creatively about how to achieve the neighborhood’s goals. Consider how you can improve your development by leveraging their wishes into enhanced approvals from the municipality. If done correctly, sound neighborhood engagement can result in a win-win-win for the neighborhood, municipality and the developer.

7. Hire Local

Consider hiring design consultants who have previously worked within the neighborhood and have a pulse on the preferences of local residents. They will help you quickly identify who the influencers are and leverage past lessons learned.

8. Don’t Clash With the Surroundings

A design aesthetic that complements the locale sometimes requires subtlety. Consult with community groups to help determine the architectural approach that won't clash with a neighborhood’s existing structures and overall ambiance.

9. Follow Through

Don’t commit to anything you don’t intend to follow through on. It’s much easier to say no upfront and explain why. If you violate their trust, you’ll have an adversary every step along the way; however, if you keep your word, you’ll gain strong proponents willing to advocate on your behalf.

10. Maintain Communication

After construction starts, ensure you’re being the best development neighbor possible. Listen to their concerns and seek methods to mitigate. Remember, this neighborhood is where members of the community live their lives. Construction should be as least obtrusive as reasonably possible.