The Public Meeting. Fewer things summon more fear and dread in the hearts of real estate developers.

The Public Meeting. Fewer things summon more fear and dread in the hearts of real estate developers.

At best, like in the old days, they’re perfunctory formalities with all the thrills of a drive-through car wash (ok, maybe not the fancy new ones with LED lights and multi-colored soap). 

At worst, though, and more often than not these days, they’re guaranteed megaphones for even the most loosely organized groups of naysayers and NIMBYs to broadcast their objections to greedy developers and their ugly projects. 

And in this age of ubiquitous social media it can feel like one big continuous Public Meeting. The Facebook microphone and camera is always ON, and getting a positive counter-message across, much less getting a real sense of what the broader public actually thinks about a project, is frustratingly elusive.

But Public Meetings are not just required by law, they are absolutely essential to getting real, valuable input and feedback, positive and negative, for high-impact and high-value real estate l projects. 

And guess what? We’re going to have a lot more of them in the Carolinas in the coming years. It’s one of the inevitable byproducts of rapid growth.

Developers responding to the demand for more housing, industrial, and retail space means communities all around our region are slamming on the planning brakes while jurisdictions  second think, update and overhaul their Unified Development Ordinances (UDOs), usually with the help from 3rd party planners from far off places like Portland, OR. 

And you know what that means? Well, as The Notorious B.I.G. might have put it, “Mo Growth, Mo Meetings.

We all have a stake in how well this process turns out. So, it begs the question: What can we do to make Public Meetings more inclusive, less combative, more effective and impactful?

We think a change in mindset is essential in two ways:

First, we all need to stop thinking of “The Public Meeting” as a singular, fixed point in time. As we said, Social Media is always on, and opinions and perspectives are constantly subject to confirmation and persuasion by a non stop barrage of posts, likes, comments, and suggestions.

So it goes with the subject matter of every Public Meeting, whether it’s a new housing development or a commercial rezoning request. Engage with your project’s likely detractors, supporters, and key stakeholders before, during, and after “the Meeting.” 

Second, we all need to hit the streets and get out of the office. People are more distracted and busier than ever, and if you simply announce a meeting, you know who’s going to show up (hint: probably not your greatest fans). 

What this really means is that we have to get involved in and with the communities in which our projects will be raised (or razed). The fact is that meeting people in their own place and circumstance is crucial to getting to the “ground truths” about your project and the forces propelling its potential support or opposition.

With these two changes in mindset, we suggest we all then take a page from the American Planning Association and support our Planning Departments and local officials to see that these six tips (and other creative ideas) for more effective, representative, inclusive Public Meetings become the “new normal:”

  1. Build Relationships with key leaders and organizations. Churches, businesses and advocacy groups can provide help with venues, communication, and even supportive constituencies who might otherwise be completely unengaged.
  2. Meet people where they are. Don’t just get out of the office, get to places where the people you really need to hear from actually ARE.
  3. Know your target audience. What to hear what the next generation of commuters think about your return-to-office plans? Feel free to invite them to your next meeting, but don’t be surprised if none show up. Read the article to see how the North Jersey Planning Authority used pizza boxes (and pizza) to engage millennials for feedback on their 30 year transportation plan.
  4. Make it fun. How about a concert, with cash bars that double as information booths to gather feedback from attendees?
  5. Eliminate barriers. How do you get input and buy-in from working parents whose calendars are packed with work, soccer practice, dinner, and bedtime routines? Arrange for childcare or even children’s activities as part of your outreach. 
  6. Don’t stop. The conclusion of a public meeting is really just the beginning of what many planners now think of as “continuous engagement.”  Take the final plan with incorporated feedback back to the same constituents to turn them into fully engaged stakeholders.

At Cardinal, we’ve led our clients safely through the perilous waters of Public Meetings for projects ranging from large single-family housing developments to industrial projects. We believe this much-needed dose of creativity is vital to ensuring that ALL Real Estate projects not only get a truly fair hearing, but have a chance to be improved and transformed by the beneficial (and free!) insights of the amazingly talented members of our broader community. 

And we also know, in any such complex situation, having the right tools can make the difference between getting what you get, and getting what you WANT. 

That’s why we help our clients prepare for every Public Meeting with the VOTA ProcessTM. It stands for Vision, Opposition, Transformation and Action –  and it allows them to think through difficult situations by envisioning an ideal outcome, clearly delineating everything that stands in the way of that outcome, and then transforming those obstacles into action.

Because those forces push in opposition to your goals? They are also the scaffolding for what you need to build to achieve them. In other words, what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. 

Don’t let your project fall victim to poor planning or avoidable roadblocks. Harness the power of community, make your public meetings count, and build successful relationships for the long term. Our team at Cardinal is ready to guide you through the VOTA ProcessTM – a proven strategy that can transform your project from vision to reality. Get in touch with us today: your project deserves nothing less than the best.

Real estate transactions can be fraught with frustration and pitfalls.

Sometimes the hardest part turns out to be working with your broker, the person who is supposed to help you through the complexities. Veteran commercial real estate broker and client advisor John Culbertson discovered that brokers’ interests aren’t always aligned with those of their clients. He realized there was a better way to advocate for clients and get the deal done.


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