(Editor’s Note: This is part 2 of a 2 part entry on zoning issues written from a Tennessee perspective. Wyatt has lawyers with zoning expertise in Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi.)
“All politics is local”: Get to Know the Decision Makers
Familiarize yourself with the form and structure of the municipal government where you are seeking rezoning. Learn who the key decision makers are and make an effort to meet them if possible. If there is a local economic development official or board, get them behind your project as early as possible. Research the members of the planning commission and the board of zoning appeals. These people control your destiny. Reach out to the individual planning commissioners and elected officials to set up meetings with them individually before the official city meetings take place. Tell them about your plans to obtain a rezoning of the subject property and ask them for their thoughts. Follow up with hand-written individual thank-you notes after the meeting, addressing their specific comments. Do not underestimate the power of a one-on-one, face-to-face meeting. If you have a commercial project in mind, provide the city officials with a copy of your site plan and any supporting materials at the meetings.
Know thy Neighbors
Understand how a rezoning would affect those who live and work nearby the subject property. You will likely be required to notify all individuals owning property in the surrounding area of your rezoning plans, so take the time to talk to these individuals if they show up at the planning commission or other city meetings. Consider holding neighborhood meetings to educate the constituents on your project development. If they have specific concerns, address their concerns in a polite and respectful manner. Send a hand written letter after meeting with neighbors and acknowledge their specific concerns in the letter. “Not in my backyard” is a strong hurdle and you may never gain the support of the neighbors surrounding your proposed project, but you may gain their respect, which could count for a lot in the eyes of the decision makers.
Listen to the People
Understand the concerns of the city officials and any demonstrators who may appear at city meetings. For example, if they are concerned about the additional traffic that your planned project on the subject property will cause, use traffic studies to demonstrate that the traffic impact will be minor. Pay attention to specific concerns of each city official – every person is different, and they all have unique constituencies and individual concerns. If the mayor is concerned about crime increasing as a result of your proposed gas station on a vacant lot in the middle of a subdivision, use statistics from other similar endeavors to show that crime has not increased and that the community will embrace your operation’s outside picnic areas as a communal gathering place. It sounds silly, but taking into account every person’s opinion, when reasonable, will carry you far in your effort to obtain a rezoning.