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Thread: Defending an unincorporated community agains predatory developers

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    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Defending an unincorporated community agains predatory developers

    From the thread "Zoning vs. Property Value" in the Zoning, Land Use and Current Planning forum:
    Quote Originally posted by permaplanjuneau
    I think the central problem with discussions like this is that the populace-at-large (including many planners, politicians, and property owners) sees density as a determining factor in the level of crime that an area experiences. The real problem, of course, is poverty, which drives people to crime (ignoring the un-punished crimes of shady politicians and greedy developers) when all other options have failed.
    I agree but would like to add that poverty is often a result of lack of 'rights' (or political power) rather than a lack of money per se. (And I can elaborate if you don't understand my point on that. )

    So, I would like to ask if anyone knows what an unincorporated community can do to protect itself from predatory developer practices. Say you are in an unincorporated community and you cannot incorporate for some reason. What powers are out there that such a community can use to help fill the vacuum of lack of local governmental powers? You are technically part of the "county" (rural) but built up like a city. What federal powers/programs/laws might assist your defense of your community? What state resources might assist you? What NGO (non-governmental organization -- like a charity) resources might you avail yourself of in such a fight?

    Is there anything else out there that I am not thinking of?

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    Eagerly awaiting a reply to this one!

    Quijote

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    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    Having just come from a province where approximately 60 % of the population lives in unincorporated communities I can probably provide suitable comments on this. Remember this experience is Canadian. Also remember that i am bit of a cynic about people's motivations and ethics when it comes to rural folks.

    1) Check local planning laws. For example, almost everything was appealable in NB and appeals cost nothing to file and not much more to present. In Ontario there are special provisons within the Act that realte to planning within unincorporated areas.

    2) There are always university bleeding hearts that are willing to jump into a fight when they think the great unwashed are being mistreated.

    3) While an area may be unincorporated, remember that they do vote for higher forms of gov't and can access those politicans also.

    4) remember that in many cases there is a local reason that they are still unincorporated and the residents chose to live that way.

    5) Similar to 4, in unincorporated areas, it is primarily the local, long time residents that are the ones doing the wrong things. Just because pappy did it(dig gravel from teh bed of the river) does not mean it is ok to do that today.
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

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    First, donk's point 4 is critical. All too often people in these situations could (or could have in the past) incorporate and didn't want to 'cuz it would raise taxes. No community that isn't willing to channel money into the public good is going to succeed in defending itself against developers.

    Having said that, one route is clearly to create a nonprofit organization, raise some funds locally, seek funds from the outside (a very competitive game) and dive into the local government's process, hopefully in alliance with other like-minded citizens and their groups. That can be quite effective. People in such a community also need to run for office. Even if defeat is pretty much assured, a credible campaign can help build influence.

    Getting significant help from state agencies is impossible in some states and marginally possible in others, if you are the right kind of community. Ditto for the foundations and nonproft organizations. If your unincorporated commununity is living in reasonable harmony with its environment and is reasonably poor you might find an interested funder.

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    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    I don't know a delicate way to put this, but the community I have in mind made an attempt to incorporate and the attempt failed. And I do not believe that it was because the majority didn't want it. I am not qualified to speak authoritatively on the details, but I believe part of the answer is that when locals do not have some kind of central authority and funding mechanism, it can fail to come up with the means to jump through the necessary hoops -- in spite of enormous dedication, intelligence, hard work, etc. of locals in the grass roots movement. As I understand it, the laws have changed such that it would now be even harder for this unincorporated community to incorporate. I do not believe that the assumption that "they just don't want to incorporate" is valid. When there is no formal organization, it can be very hard to create one of any kind from scratch. People in incorporated communities are usually also against any "new" taxes. But their dislike of paying taxes will not cause the town to cease being incorporated. Same attitude, different situation.

    The situation reminds me of the movie "Erin Brockovitch". The reason they made a movie about the case is because it is (or was) the ONLY case of its kind in the U.S. to get successfully settled because it required unanimous written agreement by all 400 and some odd people named in the class action suit. The movie got called "Erin Brockovitch" because she was the key to the whole thing in many crucial ways, including personally getting every last signature. When you have a situation like that, being "brilliant" is not necessarily "enough": if she had failed to get even a single signature, the case would undoubtedly still be in court. (The tragic events depicted in the movie "A Civil Action" are far more typical of such cases -- the small law firm basically went bankrupt in its idealistic attempt to take on the big corporation.)

    But both of you have given me some new ideas and I appreciate your input. I am wondering, donk, if you know of any examples of university intervention or can comment on the kinds of university intervention that you had in mind?

  6. #6

    Some good examples

    Some good examples to look at as far as built-up unincorporated areas defending themselves is in the King/Pierce/Snohomish County areas. At what point does a community in a rural county becomes a city? It's a tough fight to change the thinging of folks who want to live in a urban setting with a rural ambiance.
    Forechecking is overrated.

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    Cyburbian Plus Zoning Goddess's avatar
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    I have seen success where the developer is looking to develop within a city, or be annexed by a city, and the unincorporated residents have gone to the county and persuaded it to argue their case against the city.

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    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Michele Zone
    But both of you have given me some new ideas and I appreciate your input. I am wondering, donk, if you know of any examples of university intervention or can comment on the kinds of university intervention that you had in mind?
    Not thinking so much about intervention, but as a free source for information and bodies. It seems that there is always some sort of activist group that may be willing to help out.

    For schools try Mount Allison (Sackville, NB) rural and small towns program. www.mta.ca

    You may also may also want to do some reading on "capacity building". I have not looked into it, but it seems like it might be a related topic and provide guidance for mobilizing locals. It has been a buzz word at the last 2 CIP conferences.
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

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    You may also may also want to do some reading on "capacity building". I have not looked into it, but it seems like it might be a related topic and provide guidance for mobilizing locals. It has been a buzz word at the last 2 CIP conferences.[/QUOTE]

    What is "capacity building?"

    Quijote

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    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Quijote
    What is "capacity building?"

    Quijote
    The general gist is that by training and providing skill sets to people they will be better able to make and particiapte in teh decisionmaking process. As I said, I've not really looked inot it too much, but it is a buzz word, kind of like smart growth.
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

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