Assembling one’s entitlement team is a lot like drafting an NFL prospect. Given the significant investment and risk of acquiring and entitling property, smart developers should assemble a team of pros that balance a roster and position a project for success. The best property owners and developers prioritize the value of strategic teammates. That includes zoning counsel, architects, engineers and specialized consultants with deep experience, specific knowledge and strong local relationships.
A recent case in Gilbert, Arizona, highlights the value of a strong entitlement team. The developer was in escrow to purchase property previously slated as a school site with plans to develop a new subdivision. Intending to run the zoning case in-house, notice letters were sent to the surrounding community advising of the zoning change and proposed use. To the developer’s surprise, more than a hundred neighbors (and some councilmembers) showed up in united opposition against the zone change. Even worse, the rezone effort coincided with local council elections that added another layer of scrutiny and heightened awareness. Seeing the challenges that lay ahead, local zoning counsel was hired to rescue the case.
Establishing strategic relationships with neighbors, stakeholders and the elected officials was key to resurrecting this failed launch. It required someone who could build an immediate rapport with the neighbors and repair trust with key stakeholders. Because some areas can have hyper specific concerns, the developer sought out local counsel with experience in this specific part of town, who understood the issues and was involved in local politics. More importantly, it was someone who could navigate the sensitivities of election year politics while finding neighbor solutions that didn’t compromise the project. At the end of the day, the case, which was once a disaster, was unanimously approved by both the planning commission and town council.
Drafting a strong entitlement team from the outset can prevent pitfalls and headaches down the road. Local zoning counsel can help navigate these issues. They have the expertise, experience and relationships to detect, identify and resolve concerns before they become larger challenges. Together, developer and zoning attorney — by collaborating early on — can outline a pathway toward success.
Adam Baugh is a partner at Withey Morris, PLC, where he has been practicing land use and zoning law since 2007, working with city councils, planning commissions and neighborhood groups in representing landowners, developers and businesses in obtaining land use entitlements.