Housing & the Importance of Community Outreach in Development

Tom Cilmi – Senior Executive Consultant
March 3, 2022

Avoiding ‘Ready, set, STOP’

As Long Island continues to increase rental capacity, it’s abundantly clear based on occupancy rates that those who for years have said the market is ripe for substantial growth, were right. Multiple dwelling complexes filled with amenities designed to appeal to millennials, seniors and everyone in between are popping up, and filling up, everywhere it seems.

While elected officials have been generally supportive, particularly of developments located near downtowns and transportation hubs, community concerns about traffic, school district impacts and the ‘citification’ of suburbia can effect a project’s success. Increasingly, social media is being used an effective tool to galvanize like-minded residents and influence elected representatives. In order to avoid a “ready, set, STOP” scenario, it is more important than ever that developers think strategically about community outreach.

The traditional life cycle model for these proposals had always been propose first, get government approval second, worry about community reaction last. Years ago, at a time when people were less engaged, that would work…for developers at least. Residents were often surprised by demolition and construction events in their neighborhoods, and surprise is almost never good in this context.

As government officials grew weary of the inevitable backlash from angry voters, the ‘do first; ask forgiveness later’ approach evolved into propose first, worry about community reaction second, and hope for government approval last. That model, still being used today to some extent, can prove to be dangerous, if not lethal. Residents who typically do not understand the project approval process quickly get their guard up. They react harshly to the feeling of helplessness and the fear of the unknown. They allege corruption and wrongly presume that proposed projects have already received tacit approval to proceed. The result is not good for the developer nor for politics, as many projects stall under the weight of community pressure.

Increasingly, a new model has emerged…a more proactive approach which BEGINS with community outreach. Ultimately, when that outreach leads to consensus, the developer makes a formal proposal. The proposal is sometimes followed by additional community input and finally, by government review and approval. This latest approach to development is yielding positive results. Residents, it turns out, like to be included in decisions about their neighborhoods. When asked for ideas in advance, people will sometimes suggest the very components they might oppose if reacting to a proposal they perceive as being foisted upon them.

Supervisor Angie Carpenter used this inclusive process masterfully in planning for the deployment of $10 million of New York State downtown revitalization money in Central Islip. While that project is still working its way through the various stages, neither developers nor government officials need worry about community reaction. Why? Through a painstaking process of community engagement with local elected officials and planners, the planned development is, in a very real sense, the community’s own vision.

This collaborative model is being used again to execute the latest round of NYS DRI money in the Town of Riverhead and the Village of Amityville, and it’s being used by smart developers in places like Bay Shore and Rockville Centre who understand that community engagement early on saves time, money and political capital, all of which are critically important to everyone’s bottom line.


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