In these advertisements, as well as on the signage required to be physically posted on the building or site, will be the date, time and location for a public hearing regarding the request. Anyone who supports or opposes the change is required to do so in writing and with the proper authority. These comments are public record and available for anyone, including you, to review.
If there is opposition to your project, you can head it off in advance of the city’s public hearing by scheduling your own “town hall” meeting at a coffee shop or restaurant in your proposed project’s neighborhood. Distribute fliers announcing the meeting in the entire area affected by your request for zoning change.
If there’s any formal opposition filed against your request, try to visit these residents in person, or at least by phone. It’s important not to argue or even debate with these people about your project; just politely introduce yourself and invite them to your town-hall meeting.
For the meeting, have your ducks in row. Display a nice, colored rendering of your proposed facility, highlighting features such as landscaping, security, the façade, etc. Point out that self-storage has low traffic flow, that it’s well-lit and secure. Tell them there will be no “junk” or vehicles stored anywhere outside the units.
Also, affably explain to those in attendance what type of businesses could be built on this site without their input under the current zoning. Explain that you’ll allow local law enforcement and perhaps a local charitable organization to store for free at this facility. Bottom line: Show them what a great neighbor you’re going to be.
Usually, you’ll find that few of those who filed opposition will show up at the town-hall meeting, and even fewer of those will appear at the public hearing in opposition. This puts you in a power position at the hearing. If any resistance is voiced, you can ask, “Were you at the town-hall meeting we held in your neighborhood? If so, did you voice this concern at that time?” While there may still be some public opposition, you have done everything possible to take the wind out of dissenters’ sails, and the board members will take notice.
Winning Over the Board
Placating the neighbors isn’t your only task, however. You also must win over the board members, some of whom may be opposed to your project. The best thing to do is let your hired expert—The Guy—explain why your facility is right for the community.
Because you’re emotionally attached to this project and have a stake in the outcome, let those who do this day in and day out speak for you. Do you need to be present? Definitely, but maybe it’s best not to say a word. As The Guy has told me more than once, “Sit down and shut up. I’ll handle this!” This is a long and arduous process, and once your request is vetoed, it’s difficult to change minds. If your project is denied, the process starts over from the top.
Some developers say, “I’m just going to let my attorney handle it, and he’ll show ’em.” Your attorney may be one of the best, a great guy and a good friend. But remember what attorneys do: They argue, and this is no time for that. A good argument may be just what the zoning czars are waiting for, and the excuse they need to shoot down your project.
What my wise friend the developer taught me is: You have to do everything you can to make sure your request is approved before the public hearing ever starts. It could mean the difference between a planning and zoning board that’s on your side and one that denies your self-storage project.
L. Bruce McCardle is vice president of eastern division operations for Mako Steel Inc. Based in Carlsbad, Calif., Mako designs, supplies and installs steel buildings for the self-storage industry, including boat/RV storage, multi-story and custom buildings. For more information, call 800.383.4932; visit www.makosteel.com.