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Thread: Planner versus developer: true adversaries or simply misunderstood?

  1. #1
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Planner versus developer: true adversaries or simply misunderstood?

    As Inspired By several posts over the years, but really brought to light by Inventor.

    I think all planners, regardless of public or private sector, have encountered a belief that public sector planners, neighborhood groups and developers are adversaries. Some of us have even seen this in action in our communities. Some examples:

    The public sector planner supports a developer's proposal for a vertical mixed use project on an infill property, but an organized neighborhood group turns out in force complaining that their land values will skyrocket and they will be forced to move. The elected officials vote and the zoning request is rejected.

    A developer proposes a new neighborhood, kind of your typical suburban style. The developer requests to bump up the density, but the new density level requires certain design, like garages on the rear to create a better pedestrian environment. The neighborhood plan states the neighborhood citizens support such design. The developer, however, refuses saying the extra design is too expensive and won't sell as fast. The developer begins lobbying the elected officials to exempt the project from the design regulations.


    People usually prefer collaboration to conflict, yet this perception continues to precipitate in the developer-public sector planner relationship. Why has this occurred? Who is really to blame for the situation, or is there even a single entity to blame? What causes the adversarial relationship? Is it as simple as communication, with each party operating in a vacuum, or something more philosophical like motivations? Perhaps it is a failure to understand where each party is coming from?

    Personally, I have found that almost everyone -- developers, city planners and neighbors -- is interested in working together if the other one will. Think about your biggest adversary in land-use. Would you try working with them, if they would try working with you?

    What is the relationship like in the community you do most of you work in? Are planners, neighbors and developers collaborative, or is it more of a cold war with heavy posturing and a "my way or the highway" attitude?

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

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    Cyburbian Flying Monkeys's avatar
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    There is cooperation.... once we get past the negotiation stage. But all developers are different... some just want to save money, once we negotiate that, then it is on to cooperation. But other developers see themselves as having way to much influence and money to be bothered by the laws which govern the rest of us. These guys will never cooperate, they will never voluntarily 'back-down'....they require the big stick. You can spot them by the type of people (commissioners, governors, etc) that call wanting to know why there is a hold up.

    The problem: Rules and regulations do not evenly apply to all. If they did, and influence could not override the law of the land, most of my problems with developers would disappear. But as long as it is about the possibility of saving millions playing the 'who-you-know' or ‘who-you-can-buy’ game, they will always be pushing the boundary.

    So, while I agree with the idea that most everyone wants to work together, there is some heavy posturing and my-way-or-the-highway attitudes.
    What’s in a name? – Your reputation….:)

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    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Suburb Repairman View post
    People usually prefer collaboration to conflict, yet this perception continues to precipitate in the developer-public sector planner relationship. Why has this occurred? Who is really to blame for the situation, or is there even a single entity to blame?
    Lawyers. They use the conflict in the land development process to their advantage by playing planners, politicians, and land developers off each other for financial gain.

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    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller View post
    Lawyers. They use the conflict in the land development process to their advantage by playing planners, politicians, and land developers off each other for financial gain.
    You got that right. The problem planners we run into is we often have hours or, at best, days to make findings and conclusions to support our decisions. The lawyers have months or years to pick things apart and find the weaknesses or errors in procedure.

    Q: How many lawyers does it take to shingle a roof?
    A: Depends how thin you slice them.
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

    ~ Otterpop ~

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Jeff's avatar
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    Planners think it is in their job description to be against developers.

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    Cyburbian Mercer's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Jeff View post
    Planners think it is in their job description to be against developers.
    And developers think it is their job description to do everything possible to subvert and ignore the code all in the name of cost savings or "town XXXX doesn't make me do that!".

  7. #7
    Cyburbian MDGARD01's avatar
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    so i guess one cant be a trained planner/developer?
    :)

    The present is a gift

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Jeff's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Mercer View post
    And developers think it is their job description to do everything possible to subvert and ignore the code all in the name of cost savings or "town XXXX doesn't make me do that!".
    correct.
    why wouldnt a businessman work to cut cost?

    I've never understood the whole, they just want to save money argument? Who doesnt?

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Mercer's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Jeff View post
    correct.
    why wouldnt a businessman work to cut cost?

    I've never understood the whole, they just want to save money argument? Who doesnt?
    It is not the cost cutting that is the issue, a lot of the time it is the blatant lies, "answer shopping" amoungst different staff members, and just being plain shady. They then justify it under the guise of cost cutting when they generally knew all along that the requirements existed on site. I liken it to a toddler not getting their way in many cases. I will be the first to admit that this is a gross generalization and I work with many many very good and decent developers who end up saving both time and money by knowing the regulations and developing within rules they know they cannot change. The shady developers end up getting hosed cause they think they can fight the man.

  10. #10
    Gunfighter Mastiff's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Mercer View post
    The shady developers end up getting hosed cause they think they can fight the man.

    I'd suggest the good and honest developer gets hosed because of the shady developer. How many planners look askance at any developer because they've had to deal with the bad ones?

    And Jeff, you're wrong. Planners do not think it's in their job description to be against developers. I know because I am a planner and do not think that way. Please update your Bad Planner file to Version 3.04, where not all planners dislike development or developers...
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  11. #11
    Cyburbian KSharpe's avatar
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    I feel like in school, we got sort of brainwashed to hate developers, but after I'd been in the field a while I realized they come in good and bad, just like all people.
    Do you want to pet my monkey?

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    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    Without developers, a lot of planners wouldn't have much to do, so I appreciate their business.

    Some developers are great people and I like working with them. They do good work. They follow the regulations. They treat me like a professional and I treat them like professionals. When they succeed I am glad for them and hope I was a help to them.

    Other developers are not good people and I hate working with them. They do the shoddiest work they can get away with. They ignore the regulations and want us to ignore local, state and federal laws to get their projects through the process. One even forged a document. They treat me with contempt and I treat them with courtesy and professionalism.

    Good people are good developers. Bad people are bad developers. Just as good people are good engineers, planners, etc., and bad ones are bad examples of their profession. I think it comes down to the person and not the vocation..
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

    ~ Otterpop ~

  13. #13
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by otterpop View post

    Good people are good developers. Bad people are bad developers. Just as good people are good engineers, planners, etc., and bad ones are bad examples of their profession. I think it comes down to the person and not the vocation..
    ...and good workers working for bad employers know when its time to leave.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    Developers give people what they want. Planners give people what they think they need. Sometimes, the end result is the same thing.

    There is a friend of mine who is a developer who specializes in acquiring old historic buildings, rehabbing them, selling for profit but not so high that it is cost prohibitive.

    Then there are the suburbs. If people did not like them, they would be empty farm fields. But planners have not been able (although we try) to change the perception (sometimes correct) of older urban downtowns. More so, planners continue to have to deal with widening streets, freeways, and other auto oriented development.

    I don’t think that they are at war with each other, they just have two different goals in mind and sometimes they do conflict.
    Invest in the things today, that provide the returns tomorrow.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by michaelskis View post
    Developers give people what they want. Planners give people what they think they need. Sometimes, the end result is the same thing.
    And I would say - developers build what they're allowed to build that will sell. People can only buy what developers build. Sometimes developers build what people want. In many places, only one type of housing is allowed to be built - so that is clearly what people will buy. There are places where suburban housing is clearly in more demand, and places where infill is clearly in more demand (based on prices). However, almost everywhere, the hoops to jump through to build on farmland/open space/rangeland/forest are nearly nonexistant compared to the hoops required for infill. These hoops have distorted the market to the point that many people accept them (and our current market) as the "norm".

    Then there are the suburbs. If people did not like them, they would be empty farm fields. But planners have not been able (although we try) to change the perception (sometimes correct) of older urban downtowns. More so, planners continue to have to deal with widening streets, freeways, and other auto oriented development.
    Again, that may be the case in some places, but in others - farmland is simply the only land available to be developed because of massive restrictions on building in other places. This differs from nearly every other first world country, along with what took place in this country in the first half of the 20th century and prior. We used to develop suburbs at the same time that infill housing was also developed - laws and regs no longer permit that to happen without a lot of extra work - that isn't the "market" deciding to build suburbs, that's us deciding to manipulate the market to steer all development to the suburbs.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by otterpop View post
    Without developers, a lot of planners wouldn't have much to do, so I appreciate their business.

    Some developers are great people and I like working with them. They do good work. They follow the regulations. They treat me like a professional and I treat them like professionals. When they succeed I am glad for them and hope I was a help to them.

    Other developers are not good people and I hate working with them. They do the shoddiest work they can get away with. They ignore the regulations and want us to ignore local, state and federal laws to get their projects through the process. One even forged a document. They treat me with contempt and I treat them with courtesy and professionalism.

    Good people are good developers. Bad people are bad developers. Just as good people are good engineers, planners, etc., and bad ones are bad examples of their profession. I think it comes down to the person and not the vocation..
    Well said.

    In my experience its not Planners vs. Developers as much as it is The Public vs. Developers with Planners trying to facilititate compromise between the two. I know lots of planners who are seen by the public, or by special interest groups as being in the pocket of developers because they do not actively chase them out of town. Most planners work with developers every day and don't think of them as faceless villains.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    We are completely misunderstood.. Driven by different goals and directed by different paths.

    We can work together and COMPROMISE to achieve a highly successful project. An all or nothing stance on either side produces no lasting satisfaction.

    If we can all take a step back and see us working towards improving the community one property at a time, we'll be able to help each other out.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  18. #18
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Let me tell you little story about a man named Jake
    A poor mountaineer
    Barely kept his family shed….


    I’ve worked on both sides in the public sector. In one place our direction was to “get in the way of everything…stop growth and development. Peel the onion...” I was good at that. In other jurisdictions, “...get out of the way and promote development. Get these folks thru the system.” I'm good at that, too. Provided my pay-checked doesn’t bounce, I can do what ever the elected officials want in accordance with their adopted regulations.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Flying Monkeys's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by RichmondJake View post
    [I]
    I’ve worked on both sides in the public sector. In one place our direction was to “get in the way of everything…stop growth and development. Peel the onion...” I was good at that. In other jurisdictions, “...get out of the way and promote development. Get these folks thru the system.” I'm good at that, too. Provided my pay-checked doesn’t bounce, I can do what ever the elected officials want in accordance with their adopted regulations.
    Your statement is really sad on one level.... but I guess that is the healthiest attitude. I am becoming more thick skinned about how the rich-get-richer on the back of the taxpayer.

    It could be age... I am getting tired of fighting for ideas that can be sold so easily.... I think it is my age, I am older and realize that I would rather think about fishing, hum**ping, and drinking (in that order).

    As of late I have thought about getting out of planning...the running joke every time it just gets to ludicrous is, "I am quitting to go open a restaurant."
    What’s in a name? – Your reputation….:)

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    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by otterpop View post
    You got that right. The problem planners we run into is we often have hours or, at best, days to make findings and conclusions to support our decisions. The lawyers have months or years to pick things apart and find the weaknesses or errors in procedure.
    Lawyers crave bureacracy and red tape. When representing developers they actually want the entitlement process to be as laborious as possible. Scare tactics are frequently employed to convince clients that the local government can't be trusted, or will put them through the "meat-grinder", so to speak. The ideal client is somebody from out-of-town with deep pockets; naive and willing to trust them on how the process works.

    In the end the objective is to gain development approvals for the client, but not before bilking them as hard as they can. They will frequently run up their clients' bills by by misrepresting what they actually provide in legal services. A common tactic is to schedule meetings with public officials when a simple five-minute phone call would have settled the matter.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian Flying Monkeys's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller View post
    A common tactic is to schedule meetings with public officials when a simple five-minute phone call would have settled the matter.
    Oh, I hate that! I often wondered if that was the reason. I thought maybe it was that face-to-face with witnesses was what they were after.
    What’s in a name? – Your reputation….:)

  22. #22
    Cyburbian dominimami305's avatar
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    both??

    Is there anyway to be/do both??

  23. #23
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Flying Monkeys View post
    Oh, I hate that! I often wondered if that was the reason. I thought maybe it was that face-to-face with witnesses was what they were after.
    IMO, attorneys are really just another type of consultant, such as a planner, engineer, surveyor, etc who performe a scope of scopes agreed to in a contract with the client (municipality, county, etc.). There might be some unscrupulous consultants out there, (counsel or not), who would rather meet in person (which bills at a higher rate than just a phone call). I think that any consultant would rather meet in person when you have a lot of items to discuss that you just can't do over the phone (these might include rehearsals for presemtations at hearings, depositions, public meetings or just working meetings, charettes, etc).

    If you don't need to meet in person, limit to it phone calls and e-mails. This saves money for the client and keeps more time within the budget for the consultant to be working on other tasks.

  24. #24
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Flying Monkeys View post
    Your statement is really sad on one level.... but I guess that is the healthiest attitude. I am becoming more thick skinned about how the rich-get-richer on the back of the taxpayer.

    It could be age... I am getting tired of fighting for ideas that can be sold so easily.... I think it is my age, I am older and realize that I would rather think about fishing, hum**ping, and drinking (in that order).

    As of late I have thought about getting out of planning...the running joke every time it just gets to ludicrous is, "I am quitting to go open a restaurant."
    Off-topic:
    I came to the realization looooong ago that I'm just a tool. I can suggest, lobby for, and talk until I'm blue in the face on policy but it's the elected officials that have the ultimate say. If I wanted to set policy, I'd run for office.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian Mercer's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by RichmondJake View post
    Off-topic:
    I came to the realization looooong ago that I'm just a tool. I can suggest, lobby for, and talk until I'm blue in the face on policy but it's the elected officials that have the ultimate say. If I wanted to set policy, I'd run for office.
    Amen my brother. This is the only way I've been able to be a planner for the last several years. Boy do I sleep better at night. Some may argue that we've "lost the passion" and shouldn't be doing this anymore, but I would argue that this realization is the perfect thing that allows me to do my job objectively. When I leave here at 4:30 everyday, I don't think about this place at all until I come in the next day. It's only a job, I have better things to do with my life.

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