The Power of Grassroots Campaigns, Both For and Against Development

By: Andrew McRoberts, Editor. This was posted Friday, July 24th, 2009

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One thing that we have all seen as local government lawyers is the ability of a large (and sometimes even a small) group of vocal citizens to alter the results of a vote on a rezoning or other local ordinance.

To me, this involvement is healthy. Citizen involvement is a hallmark of local government, the part that makes it LOCAL. Local folks have access to government in their county, city or town. Unlike other levels of government, they actually get notice of meetings and can easily attend a public hearing or other public meeting on matters that impact them. Local citizens can access their local officials by phone, email, or by running into them in the grocery store. To me, this is the purest form of government of the people, by the people and for the people.

And, as I stated above, there is power in the people.

More and more, groups of citizens organize to oppose development to which they are opposed. They realize they CAN have an impact on the final vote. This has been described as the “Walmart effect” after the sometimes successful grassroots campaigns to defeat local land use approvals for the big box behemouth. Here is an article by the Saint Consulting Group on this “effect” which asserts that the “public can fight city hall.”

But the developers are catching on, too. Some have adopted the methods of the NIMBY crowd to actually SUPPORT development. Here is an article from Forbes magazine (Feb. 16, 2009) on the ability of some developers to tap into the power of the people.

As local government attorneys, we often sit on are on the sidelines watching the politics unfold. I expect to see more of these types of grassroots tactics, both for and against development in the future.

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