A Winning Formula for Permitting
Unfortunately for the school board, the neighborhood adjacent to where the stadium was to be built was violently opposed to the idea. As a result, the board, feeling the political pressure, backed down and stated that it would not approve construction of a stadium even if the bond passed. But the damage had already been done. Even after the announcement that the stadium was being withdrawn, the opponents, who by this time had formed a very active opposition group, continued to oppose the entire bond issue.
The bond issue was ultimately approved by a razor-thin margin, but only after the group supporting the measure spent a record amount of money and put on a huge campaign to get out the vote.
The moral of the story is to carefully consider your request. If an item in your proposal will be controversial, include it only if you cannot life without it and you are committed to fight for your request until the end of the process.
The pre-public hearing phase
Preparing for a public hearing can be downright uncomfortable for anyone who only occasionally goes through the entitlement process. No one relishes the thought of appearing before local decision makers in a public setting to request approval to permit reserves when the audience is filled with angry homeowners who violently oppose your request. There are, however, a number of steps that an applicant can take to help get through this phase of the process with better odds of success. Before discussing these steps, several comments about the public hearing process are in order.
Jim West, who has worked for several aggregate companies and also has been a consultant to the industry, correctly observes that the term public hearing is an oxymoron. He goes on to describe that “the public” really isn’t involved in a typical hearing process to permit reserves – it is only the applicant and the immediate neighbors who show up at the hearing. And really not much “hearing” is involved in these meetings because each side is so intent on making its points that no one is listening to, or hearing, what the other side is saying. That does not mean, however, that the public hearing is not important for the applicant. In some respects, it is like a television debate between vice presidential candidates. Even if a candidate does really well in the debate, it may not be a major factor in determining how someone will vote. If, however, a candidate makes some embarrassing errors during the debate, it could well cause many people to vote for the other side.
To be properly prepared for this event, producers can implement the following pre-hearing steps.
- Meet with your neighbors. The importance of meeting with neighbors to discuss your plans has previously been mentioned. As a result of these meetings, the applicant should have a good idea if the community still opposes the project and, if so, what issues are still in contention. Armed with this knowledge, it is important to line up experts that will refute or greatly minimize objections you anticipate may be voiced at the hearing.
- Review relevant documents at your local agency. All relevant published documents of the local agency where the application has been filed should be reviewed. There probably will be a number of statements in these documents that a producer can use to support a request to permit more reserves. For example, most agencies have policies favoring affordable housing. During the public hearing, the applicant can point out that by granting its request, it will keep the cost of aggregates low compared to a much higher cost if aggregates must be hauled in from more distant locations. Most communities also have policies to help limit air pollution. The argument can be made that permitting “close-in” reserves cuts down on trucking and, therefore, the amount of air pollution generated by the trucks if local reserves are not permitted. Additional arguments can back up local policies concerning traffic, safety, etc.
- Attend meetings of the decision-making group. One of the most important things that should be done before the hearing is to sit through several meetings of the group that will make a decision on your project. Doing so will help you understand the group’s procedures, acquaint you with the proper pronunciation of each decision maker’s name and title (very important), and give you a good idea of what types of arguments play well with the decision makers. This will allow you to prepare your presentation accordingly.
By sitting in and observing several meetings before your hearing, you will also gain insights on the group’s dynamic – who the power players are. Frequently, there are one or two people in each group who – if you can get their vote – will sway several other members to vote the same way. The person who is running the meeting may be, but is not always, the member most respected by their colleagues. In many locations, the position of the chairperson is rotated every year or so. When I was first appointed to the planning commission where I live, the most respected member sat at the end of the dais. He was a professor of government at a local college and had been on the commission for 20 years. Almost always, the newer members of the commission would vote the same way the professor voted. If you could convince him, you automatically picked up two or three other votes.
Finally, it needs to be noted that all local decision makers are ordinary people and, as such, are biased in one way or another. By sitting through several meetings, you will learn who is biased on what subjects. Therefore, you can prepare your presentation for your public hearing accordingly. For example, assume you have attended several meetings of the group that will decide you application and you have observed that one or two members of the group are school teachers who are concerned with children getting to and from school safely. In this case, I would want to present a visual example of the routes that trucks would take to service a major upcoming or proposed project from both your requested site versus the route trucks would travel from a more remote location. The site I would pick for such an example would show the trucks from the requested location not traveling by any schools versus the truck traffic from the more distant location traveling by several schools. The decision makers who are teachers will immediately pick up on your example even if you don’t mention it verbally.
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