Why do public planning projects go off the rails?

Vice President , The Regional Group of Companies Inc
  • Jun. 8, 2016

John ClarkIt’s been called “local obstructionism” but better known by the somewhat pejorative term “Not In My Back Yard” or “NIMBYism.”

It’s a shroud of righteousness worn by some people who resist almost any change and the ambiguity of the unknown.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s your right as a citizen and taxpayer of your community to stand up and speak out against development and infrastructure projects that give legitimate grounds for concern. Who wants to live down the street from a prison, or a chemical plant, or under the shadow of a new expressway or condo tower? If quality of life, the safety of your neighbourhood or the resale value of your home is at risk, it’s only natural for the average person to stand up and say, “No.”

When NIMBYism is warranted, and when it isn’t

Of course, the question is whether a proposed development, infill project or new infrastructure build really does pose a risk to these cherished things.

Developers and urban planners must always be cognizant of the fact that there is a segment of the population, a fringe element, who will object to just about anything “new” as a matter of principle.

I’ve been to many open houses and public consultations for one proposed project or another over the years. There is almost always that contingent of dogged objectors who invariably fixate on the same things:

Parking  – Will there be enough if the development increases the population density of the neighbourhood or draws more shoppers/workers from elsewhere?
Traffic – Will streets become unsafe and congested due to more cars on the road?
Transit – Will this mean more busses on the road, increasing the safety hazard on residential streets, or conversely will there be a need for more?
Shadowing – is the new build going to leave parts of the neighbourhood stuck in the shade of a skyscraper?

These are all legitimate concerns, depending on the nature of the project in question. They are also easy targets for the activist obstructionist.

Full and honest disclosure is the best defence

Why? Because I see, time and again, some developers and urban planners who should know better fail to be prepared for objections rooted on any of these points.

With any new development or infrastructure project, there has to be, as a simple matter of sound public policy, studies that examine and seek to mitigate impacts and effects related to parking, traffic, shadowing, transit and other considerations.

It therefore only makes sense, during a public consult or open house, to address the most likely opposition head on by presenting the findings and recommendations of these studies up front in a clear and obvious manner.

But too often, this isn’t done. I’ve was at an open house a few years ago where, when asked about traffic impact, the developer said there wouldn’t be any.

Excuse me? If your project adds even one car to the street, there’s an impact. I expect he meant there would be only minimal impact, but that’s not what he said. The obstructionists had a field day with that – another greedy developer, trying to pull the wool over the eyes of honest residents.

This is a marketing exercise – treat it like one

This is ultimately a marketing exercise – you have to sell residents on the value and need of the development.

Take another example – a retirement residence. With an aging population, we are obviously going to need more assisted living facilities in the years to come. But in this case, the developer, speaking to an audience full of grey hairs, didn’t even make the point that the new residence would give people a quality assisted-living option, without having to leave their community, when they were no longer able to live on their own.

I also hear people who object to infill projects because they think their tax dollars have paid for infrastructure that a developer is now going to take advantage of – they think the developer is somehow getting a free ride. And yet, that developer must pay development charges to the city to proceed with construction. The new build will also pay its full utility costs and property taxes like the rest of the street. City hall gets more revenue for infrastructure that has already been paid for, and these additional development charges fund municipal projects throughout the city.

Another point, often overlooked – when you take an underperforming property and redevelop it, its assessed value goes up, and its tax bill goes up. The local assessment base has just grown. City hall isn’t in the business of making a profit, just collecting enough property tax to cover the bills. The more properties there are in your neighbourhood, the further that tax burden is spread. In other words, that infill project will give everyone else a marginal reduction on their tax bill. It likely isn’t much, but still, it’s something.

Developers must use the facts to defuse criticism

Bottom line, development is necessary and good most of the time. If we didn’t have good regulated development, we would be living in horrid medieval conditions. Over the last century and a bit, ever growing regulation have given us safer communities, with more reliable utilities and key services such as policing and fire.

Yes, there are examples of bad development, but if we had none, as some people seem to want, no one would have a decent place to live.

It just astonishes me that developers and urban planners don’t make better use of the facts available to them to defuse criticism. It’s so easy to do it in the right way. Proper preparation for new development public information sessions is the proponent’s one opportunity to tell their story, and should not be wasted by failing to get the facts out and explaining why a project is a good idea.

To discuss this or any other valuation topic in the context of your property, please contact me at jclark@regionalgroup.com. I am also interested in your feedback and suggestions for future articles.


John Clark is Vice President with The Regional Group of Companies Inc. He has more than 33 years of experience in the real estate appraisal field, is a fully accredited…

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John Clark is Vice President with The Regional Group of Companies Inc. He has more than 33 years of experience in the real estate appraisal field, is a fully accredited…

Read more





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