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Help - I have a true believer on my hands!

el Guapo

The county commissioners appointed a board to examine the merits of planning and zoning in the rural portion of the county. This board is chaired by a "planning true believer" who just recently moved into the county from a megalopolis. She holds views that would be comfy in Berekely. She is Rural America's worst nightmare: "a City Slicker who wants those damn commie land use controls."

Does anyone have a suggestion on how I can gently explain that despite her good motives she is not the one to lead this battle? I have to explain to her that this change must come from the leadership of a long-time resident with credibility in the community.

She seems bright and capable, just too zealous for the local political climate.

Has anyone else seen an obvious outsider have success in a relatively stagnant rural community?
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infiltrate infiltrate

But how do you flush out the old bird who will be her decoy?

I know - plant a rumor that a chicken or hog farm is looking at property or better yet that New York State wants to ship its garbage there.

That should flush out the stagnant backwaters and generate a crop of local gadflies willing to nosh on donuts and coffee while they listen to her pitch "Plan Beautiful:"

Or market it as a woman's issue and she could get the housewives out of the house and marching down the streets of Santa Poco.

Joe Iliff

Reformed City Planner
Role of Outsider

I've seen outsiders or newcomers take active roles, but they are most effective in roles of bringing examples from other places or spurring action. I've not seen them effective at creating policy that is in tune with the local policial tolerances. Those have to be done by "locals".

I would encourage her to bring examples from other places she's been. Something like "You (long time residents) don't want to make the mistake community X did because they lost something you have" or "If we wait to long to do something, we'll end up like . . .".

Also, let her know that in a small town, a few words from the right person can guarantee a proposal will be adopted without opposition or doom it to political oblivion. And that the best proposals always come from within the community, from their history and emotions, and not from some expectation from "outside". They have to want to do something, not just "need" to.

Good luck.


Can you gently suggest that she first sell the idea to one of the established local members? Maybe she has already developed rapport with one of them. Perhaps you have documented history of local opposition to similar suggestions that you can share with her; that would give her an idea of residents' feelings and they way they do battle. If she has a little success, that will build her credibility to the community, instead of her appearing to shove change down their throats.

You can always suggest that she come here to read this thread - it seems to work for Abby and Ann (show her this column.)


Corn Burning Fool
Staff member
Three Bears

I feel for ya Chris. I'm kind of in a Goldielocks position right now. Two planners before me was a true believer, very strict zoning enforcer, and tried to spread zoning out to the county. The last planner was a reaction to this, very open consensus builder, but unfortunately easily intimidated. Then I came along, and everything is "just right". I work hard to help proposals conform to our code. I use enough common sense to scare the heck out of the city attorney and rarely is anything turned down. The Board of Adjustment loves me because they rarely have to meet. This works great in a small rural town. I would hate to see someone come in and mess all of this up. Good luck


Cyburbian Emeritus
Maybe they want her to fail

An interesting twist - they appoint an outsider to come up with a plan to zone and regulate as far as the eye can see, knowing damned well that she will cause rancor amongst the locals and fail miserably, leaving the unscathed commissioners to say, "See? I told ya zoning was a bad idea..."


"Has anyone else seen an obvious outsider have success in a relatively stagnant rural community?" Short answer - rarely.

There is a similar group in my city trying some downtown revitalization. I've told them the same story, but they won't listen. If they could just get a small number of prominant family names behind it, they would be much better off.

On the other hand, in another city, I had luck getting a property owner to annex his land for development. Previously, bad blood between him and the city had prevented it from happening. A new face could make the transition.

Perhaps it does not matter if she is new, so long as she listens to the residents (new and long-time alike) and seeks real consensus.


Re; True Believer in Rural Setting

There can be a happy ending to this story if your "true believer" has good listening skills. If she knowns how to sit quietly and just listen to what people have to say, she may learn a lot, and modify her approach. On the other hand, if she sees herself as "the answer" then she'll just self-destruct.

The question I have is what propelled the county commissioner to get her in the picture? Does he want her to be a lightening rod so that he can appear reasonable by comparison? Rural elected officials rarely generally adopt "crusader rabbits" as their own, but sometimes find it useful to send them out as pawns in larger games.


Lee Nellis

Seems to me that any county in 2002 that actually has land use issues (and not all do) and hasn't addressed them deserves to have a city slicker inflicted on them … 

More seriously, it seems to me that one missing piece of the story is the rest of the committee/commission she is chairing. If they're good solid local folk that helps image-wise, and they will help drag your city slicker back to center.

From a planners' perspective: Does the county have a plan actually worthy of the name? or at least an adopted vision that can guide adoption of a plan and zoning? They usually don't and you should be able to burn off all her energy getting a nice inclusive listening process initiated. The odds that you will implement rural land use controls without taking that step are next to zero anyway, so channel her energy into a well-designed process and give her time to listen and learn.