Concede with Caution

Debra Stein

You make the project smaller, the wetland bigger or you add parking for carpoolers. You've made concession after concession, but you're still facing community opposition to your project.

There are four causes of citizen hostility to land use proposals, and concessions will address only one of those four causes. Before yielding, evaluate why neighbors oppose your project and determine whether concessions are even appropriate.

A significant amount of public opposition to land use projects is caused by misperceptions or inadequate information. Concessions won't affect this type of opposition, but strategies to inform the public will.

Public hostility to your project also may arise when a citizen feels humiliated, ignored, or pushed around. Meeting the emotional needs of activists is a critical part of any community outreach campaign and substantially less expensive than giving in.

The third cause of opposition to real estate projects --- conflicts of values --- cannot be resolved by making concessions. Citizens who believe that environmental preservation is a higher moral goal than economic development often view the real estate sponsor as unethical, and see negotiations about those proposals as unacceptable.

Concessions are appropriate when citizens oppose your project because it conflicts with their basic interests. Most project supporters are motivated by their "positive interest" in gaining new benefits they don't currently enjoy. By comparison, project opponents are generally motivated by their "negative interest" in avoiding change to the status quo. If you cannot persuade citizens to accept your assertions that your proposal will not damage their interests, then it may be time to make some concessions.

You can make project modifications to remove the real or perceived threat to neighbors' interests. If it isn't possible to modify the project, those effects can be reduced to less offensive levels through mitigation measures.

If negative interests cannot be addressed through project modification or impact mitigations, then consider appealing to citizens' positive interests to improve their existing condition by offering counter-balancing benefits. Common benefits include more public open space, traffic improvements, and community facilities.

The biggest mistake developers make is to make concessions that don't materially increase the level of citizen approval. When considerable money is at stake, it's crucial to undertake sophisticated opinion research to avoid making ineffective concessions.

So don't rush into making expensive concessions in an effort to win public support for your project. Evaluate why citizens are opposing your project, and determine if concessions are really necessary.