How Might A Proposed Development Project Affect You & Your Neighbors?
Researching the benefits and potential adverse effects of a development proposal
You’ve just learned of a proposal to develop vacant land adjoining your neighborhood. You envision a number of ways in which the project might affect your quality of life and that of your neighbors. But how likely is it that your worst fears will become reality? And is it worth the many hours and dollars it may take to oppose the development proposal?
Well, if the development proposal is among the many types listed on the CEDS issues webpage then you’ll likely find your answer there.
If you’re concerned about a specific impact, such as traffic, school overcrowding, or pollution of your neighborhood stream, then you should find guidance on how to assess the likelihood of adverse effect on another CEDS webpage.
But if the CEDS webpages fail to provide the insights you’re seeking, then suggestions are offered below for doing your own research into the potential impact of a development to your quality of life and that of your neighbors.
After having helped literally thousands of people throughout the U.S. with hundreds of development proposals, CEDS has learned that it is rare that the most feared impacts are likely to occur.
Frequently, likely impacts can be resolved by convincing the developer or regulatory agencies to make changes. And winning these Equitable Solutions is far easier than killing a project. But first you must separate fact from suspicion regarding project impacts. Following are the methods used by CEDS when our clients seek help with a project type we’ve not encountered before.
Visit Similar Projects
The approach we use most frequently is to identify several to a dozen existing projects similar to that proposed in terms of type of use, proximity to homes, hours of operation, etc. We then urge our clients to visit each existing project site at two times:
- When the existing project is active, such as in the case of commercial-industrial uses that may operate only on weekdays, and
- On a Saturday or Sunday when nearby residents are most likely to be home and open to speaking with you.
A word of caution though; always observe a facility off-site. You should never enter onto a facility without permission.
By visiting similar, existing uses on a weekday one can get a sense of how much noise, dust, odor, traffic or other possible adverse effects the use can cause. By talking with nearby residents one can learn of intermittent problems that have proved troublesome. Nearby residents will usually share their experiences if you explain that you live near a similar proposed facility and you’re wondering if there’s any reason to be concerned.
A proposed concrete recycling facility illustrates the value of this approach. CEDS is a strong advocate of recycling facilities. However, these facilities tend not to be very compatible with neighborhoods. We had clients in Florida who were concerned about a concrete recycling facility proposed near their home. CEDS identified five existing recycling facilities in their area which were similar to the proposed operation.
Our clients visited four of the five existing facilities when each was in operation. They noted excessive noise along with significant dust accumulations on cars and other nearby surfaces. Those living near three of the four facilities reported a variety of problems: flies, rodents, smell, noise, and house shaking from machinery. Area residents living 600- to 1,000-feet from the facilities seemed not to be affected.
The proposed recycling was much closer than 600 feet to a number of homes. Our clients presented the results of their research at a hearing. Their testimony prompted the hearing officer to deny the Conditional Use Permit needed to open the proposed recycling facility.
Mail Survey Of Those Living Near Similar Projects
Sometimes it may not be practical to visit existing facilities similar to that proposed, such as when they are separated by considerable distances. In these cases we compile a mailing list of a dozen or so residents living at various distance from the use, but in the same distance range as those of our clients. In other words, if the proposed use is 200 feet from our clients’ homes then we’ll focus on those living 100- to 500-feet from the existing use. A letter like the following is sent first-class, via U.S. Mail, to these nearby residents.
In the letter we ask recipients to take a brief survey about what it’s like to live near the existing project. It is important to ask about both benefits and negative effects. In many cases adverse impacts can be resolved by winning changes to the project. The goal would be to design negative effects out of a project while retaining beneficial aspects. Also, the more a solution minimizes impacts to project profitability the easier it is to win.
CEDS uses platforms such as Survey Monkey and Mail Chimp for online surveys. But we’ve also enclosed 4″ x 6″ postcards, like that below, in our letters to nearby residents. More concise questions are posed on the cards which are already stamped and addressed. All a recipient must do is answer a couple of questions then drop the post card in the mail.
The following aerial provides an example of the results typical of these neighbor surveys. Letters were mailed to one person living in each of the green and red houses below. Three of the residents responded who lived in the red houses below. All three reported adverse effects due to the self-storage facility outlined with yellow.
From having conducted many of these by-mail surveys we’ve learned that benign uses tend to generate very few responses, while we frequently get a very high response rate from existing uses that have plagued nearby residents with excessive noise, traffic, or odors.
In the case of the self-storage facility survey illustrated above, we mailed letters to folks living near 11 facilities in two states. Five people living near three of the 11 facilities completed the survey. Those living near two of the three facilities reported no adverse effects and one cited benefits. Those living in the three red homes in the aerial above reported adverse effects due to noise and lights. All three lived within 100- to 200-feet of the self-storage facility.
We have used both tax (property) maps and voter data to compile mailing lists. You can usually find tax-property ownership data by doing an online search with the name of a county or city and keywords like property map.
While tax-property data is usually available free online we’ve found that the addresses available from commercial sources of voter data are far more accurate.
Online Database Searches
About a decade ago we had clients concerned about a large gas station proposed near Washington, D.C. Our clients included several scientists who found data from the California Air Resources Board documenting that benzene and other compounds released from gas stations to the air posed a threat to the health of those living up to 300 feet away. Since then a number of studies by researchers at Columbia University, Johns Hopkins and other institutions has shown that adverse health effects extend at least 500 feet from gas stations. This research has prompted a number of counties, towns and cities to enact regulations guiding new gas stations to sites far enough from homes to prevent adverse health effects. This research has also allowed CEDS clients to defeat a number of gas stations proposed too close to homes.
Occasionally, we’ll urge our clients to call for a zoning law amendment to guide a category of uses to locations where the benefits can be enjoyed without jeopardizing nearby residents. It is easier to convince an elected official to support the change if we can show it has been enacted successfully by another jurisdiction. Two valuable databases for finding existing zoning laws is Municode and American Legal.