Trying to keep my house's value up (fighting the man!)
June 9, 2014 9:50 AM   Subscribe

The property behind our subdivision is large (~6 acres) and has been sold to a developer. Developer wants to put in 92 townhomes. I'm all for people doing what they want with their property, but this will have a great impact on our homes. We have a small creek that can't handle that much runoff. This neighborhood will have one entrance/exit for the 92 homes and back up traffic on our road. They will fell a lot of trees. My house might lose value. Any ideas? City council meeting is tonight.
posted by heathrowga to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It's possible your property value could increase as nearby land increases in value. Your local assessor may have some idea. It is late in the game for basic research; you may want to ask for a delay on any votes.
posted by dragonsi55 at 10:06 AM on June 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

We're in the middle of a construction boom so this is happening a lot in our municipality. Here is a similar story from here a few weeks ago.

Check your municipality's development guidelines and see what those say. If what is being proposed is okay according to your municipal plan and development regulations, you could be facing an uphill battle. Here is an example of a project in our area that did not meet the city's municipal plan but seemed destined to be approved by council. Due to public outcry, the proposed project did not end up going ahead. So yes, go to the council meeting and be heard!
posted by futureisunwritten at 10:07 AM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would go to the meeting, not to rail against "the Man" but to ask the questions you want answered:

1. How will the small creek be managed
2. What provisions are being made for increased traffic?
3. How many trees will be felled? What provisions are made for replacing them?
4. Explain how area property values will be affected.

Rather than being argumentative and obstructionist, go as a person ready to hear all sides, and if they can't provide good answers to those questions, then ask that the approvals be delayed until they can.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:12 AM on June 9, 2014 [25 favorites]

Organize as many of your neighbors as you can to go to the meeting. Start calling them now (really, I'm surprised no one has contacted you on this). Is this the initial council meeting or are they voting on the outcome tonight? Make every attempt to delay until you can get your neighbors together to present a unified front.
posted by desjardins at 10:14 AM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Who are you working with to oppose this? Do you know your neighbors? The more people you can join in with, the better.

You don't mention what jurisdiction you're in, but if you're in the US, I'm guessing the runoff issue won't fly. Most planned developments like this would be adding stormwater management systems, esp. if there's a creek present (aka wetlands), and the stormwater from additional impervious surfaces would likely go to the municipal storm sewer system (if there is one) or to a stormwater interceptor/basin and then to the creek in a more controlled manner (if there isn't a stormwater sewer system in your town). Obviously you can mention the issue, just don't be surprised if they say they've already solved that one.

The traffic argument is more likely to be useful, so I'd focus there. "Loss of greenspace" is another buzzword, although it may or may not work in your area.

Contact your Councillor in advance, if you can. Explain that you're a concerned neighbor, and you will be at the council meeting to oppose the project.

Do you know anyone at the local building/zoning/planning/community development department, etc.? If so, reach out to them and ask how these processes work in your town, and where you could have the most influence. If you don't know anyone already, you could still head down to City Hall this afternoon and drop by the Zoning Board and/or Building Dept (or Community Development, or whatever it is in your town). Ask them how the approval and permitting process works and if they have any suggestions. Ask if the project will need a zoning variance (in many areas in the US I believe they would -- 92 townhomes on 6 acres is pretty damn dense, esp. assuming townhomes with basement level parking, and US zoning tends to focus on single-family homes on separate lots -- but it will depend on the current zoning and your town's zoning regs). Most city offices are pretty nice about explaining this kind of thing to concerned citizens.

And then attend the city council meeting for sure.
posted by pie ninja at 10:14 AM on June 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Knock on your neighbors' doors and ask them to go with you to the meeting. If they are too shy to speak, if they could just stand up and be counted (literally), it would help. Or if they don't have time to go, maybe you can get them to sign a petition that you can hold up and show at the council meeting; it can be as simple as, "We oppose the developer's proposal" with however many signatures and addresses.

Contact the council's clerk or administrator or assistant (whatever they are called), and ask if you can be added to the agenda. It might be too late.

Contact your representative on city council before the meeting, and let them know you are their constituent, and you are planning to attend and speak in opposition to the proposal. See if they can get you on the agenda (they might be able to amend the agenda even if it's too late for you to get on there).
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 10:15 AM on June 9, 2014

Here's a previous question where a lot of the concerns are similar to yours. It depends on what the Council vote is for tonight (approval? re-zoning?), you're getting into the game really late, and there's a large possibility that you won't really be able to do anything at this point. It's entirely likely that your area is different from mine, but addressing all the concerns you mention would be part of the process to even get before the City Council for an approval vote where I live. At that point, all the traffic and environmental issues have been addressed and solutions have been proposed and integrated into the design to mitigate any negative impacts to whatever degree possible, and the City Council is voting tonight to approve how all those issues are addressed after the planning department and the developer have gone through a few rounds of review for code conformance.

If you come to the council meeting and start complaining about the traffic impact/runoff/environmental damage, the developer's response in my area would probably be "here's our traffic impact report/ water quality report/ environmental report detailing how we deal with those issues". Unless you can bring up issues in how those studies were done, you'll be pretty easily dismissed. If the developer is at the approval vote point, it's way too late to have anyone review the reports (which should be available for public review somehow) to find errors.
posted by LionIndex at 10:44 AM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

It matters a lot whether that 6 acre property is designated (zoned and/or planned) to be greenspace and the developer is asking to to something outside of the currently-allowed plans, or whether that lot has been designated for future residential development for a while, and just happened to be vacant until now.

If the land is designated for development and the proposed development is within the allowed density/height requirements/setbacks/etc, there may not be much you can do about it-- especially if the parcel has been designated for future development for a long time (e.g. was already designated for future development when you bought your house). The lack of notice suggests to me that this might be the case-- if a developer is going to do something on a vacant parcel that is allowed under the current plan, there is often little (or no) notice requirement, because the assumption is that residents who cared did (or should have) participated in the plan development that designated the lot for development in the first place, and that residents who moved in once the plan was in place did (or should have) looked into the existing community plan to see what might change in the area. Just because a lot is vacant when you move into an area doesn't mean it will stay that way, and in many urban areas it's actively unrealistic to assume that will be the case.

Pie ninja is probably right-- the developer is probably required to have a plan in place to deal with stormwater mitigation, and it's possible that the existence of the creek is already constraining the size/number of units of the development. The traffic impacts are probably a realistic concern, though it's likely that the mitigation for that will be additional street connections, not a reduction in overall unit development. And, on preview, yeah, they probably have a traffic impact study already, but the single entrance/exit might still be something you can ask to have re-assessed.

If the development is proposed for a lot that is designated for that type of use, and the plan conforms to current code requirements, I strongly suggest you do not go in with a simple "we oppose this development" objection. Objecting to something that is allowed--especially if your preferred alternative is "leave things the way they are" is likely to get you labeled as a Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) annoyance. If this type of development is permitted under the current plan, you're going to need to develop some ideas for how to make relatively small adjustments to the proposal to make it more compatible with the existing neighborhood-- and you're going to need to be willing to compromise, because if the developer is working within the existing allowed framework, they may not have to do anything differently just because existing neighbors dislike it.

Similarly, unless this is a rezoning or a change from the currently allowed use, you're not going to have much (if any) luck arguing that your home might loose value. If that lot has been planned for development for a while, any higher value due to trees/greenspace was temporary. Assessors (competent ones, anyway) take possible future development into account when they value properties-- so this either would have been considered when you bought your house, or it should have been brought up when the land was planned/zoned for development in the first place.
posted by Kpele at 10:58 AM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

My anecdotal experience says you won't be able to stop it, but you can probably get concessions, which you should take rather than holding out for a total "win".
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:07 AM on June 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Sorry to threadsit:
1. We have been in contact with the councilors. My neighborhood and a sister neighborhood that will be effected have written letters via our HOA lawyers.
2. This is a first-step approval. The county design board is advising not to permit this as it stands due to the number of variances the builder is requiring.
3. My husband is going to tonight's meeting, not me. I don't think an 8 and a 10-y-o will be very helpful, especially in their karate outfits. :)
4. The traffic/stormwater/etc. plans are posted on the city's website. They are requesting certain variances.
5. My neighbors are attending. We've been discussing this for weeks.
6. Our suburb is in a very desirable area of Atlanta due to "quality of life". I'm not a NIMBY fanatic.

Thank you all for your help!
posted by heathrowga at 11:19 AM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

As someone who has seen this happen in a few different neighborhoods over the last 15 years, and being close friends with community organizers, city planners and developers, my guess is that the development will end up going forward.

If you had to guess, based on other local recent experiences, is this going to happen? If that's your gut feeling too, the absolute best thing you can do is accept that it will happen AND fight to get the specific issues addressed. You'll be 1000% more effective fighting for specific things rather than fighting for the developers to just walk away.

Make a list of things that would address your concerns: community greenspace, neighborhood playground, additional traffic measures, community center or community room, funding to deal with creek mitigation and cleanup, spacing or density limits, how to consider the impact on local schools etc.

I've seen this be an incredible effective process when done correctly, in many cases improving the quality of life for everyone involved.

One thing is for someone to take detailed notes, get them approved by other neighbors who attended the meeting, and circulate them via email to your local neighborhood. Keep people up to date on the specifics, with specific actions they can take (i.e. call XYZ and say you support the development IF they agree to ABC community demands). Lots of people will be happy to do a small thing if you give them the script. Make it really easy for them to see the payoff and the process along the way.

If you have single parents in your neighborhood, organize childcare so the adult can attend meetings. It's a huge issue in our neighborhood and once a bunch of moms organized collective childcare, lots of other working single parents were able to attend the meetings and add their voice to the conversation. It was very effective and has paid off with other community organizing efforts.
posted by barnone at 11:38 AM on June 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

A while back, I headed up a little committee in my neighborhood that got together with the goal of defeating something roughly similar to this, if smaller in scope -- they were going to build a giant student housing complex several miles away from any/all local universities, smack dab in the middle of a 75% residential/25% light industrial area that has literally zero recreational opportunities, with re-zoning required and variances up the wazoo, meant to house nearly 1,000 people but with only 50 additional parking spaces proposed on-site. (We won!)

pie ninja and Kpele have described everything I went through in a nutshell. Really, really solid info there.

The only thing I would add is that you should try to do as much research as possible on the developer and their existing developments. Get the contact information for whoever manages construction/upkeep on their already-built subdivisions and chat with them about your concerns. Look up folks who live in or near their existing developments, drop them a line or give them a call, explain your current situation and ask how their property values, noise, safety, etc. have been affected by the developments. Call the local police departments and ask if there are any nuisance properties or what sorts of crime are most common there. Do the current residents like where they live as much as they did before the developers came along? If they could go back in time and change one thing about the proposed properties, what would it be? There is an incredible wealth of information out there for you, no matter how tonight's council meeting goes, and it will definitely help you figure out a more advantageous path forward either way.

Like in my situation, I found out that the developers who were looking to build in my neighborhood had a solid track record of letting a remarkable percentage of their properties go to shit within 2-3 years of completing construction (upticks in police involvement and crime, decreased surrounding property values, DNS complaints due to shoddy building/grounds maintenance, etc.) before putting them up for sale and letting them languish on the market. The developers seemed to have assumed that no one would do that much legwork just to oppose their development, so when I brought reams of evidence of everything to the City Council -- police reports, statements from residents, etc. -- they were visibly surprised. It went from being an open-and-shut case in their favor to an open-and-shut case in ours in, like, three days.

It took a lot of effort on our parts, but it was amazing to get together with my neighbors and accomplish something that seemed totally impossible at the outset. Good luck!
posted by divined by radio at 11:47 AM on June 9, 2014

Thank you all for your responses. Many people from the neighborhood (and the next neighborhood over that will also be affected) showed up for the city hall meeting.

The developer requested a stay and met with the neighborhood people. My husband felt they were trying to find out what is the least they could do to minimize the opposition.

Next meeting in a month. Thank you all for your great responses!
posted by heathrowga at 8:55 AM on June 12, 2014

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