Before protesting project in your backyard, consider: Is it for the common good?

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, April 29, 2015

When I first started my career in planning, I was naive — in many areas I still am — about the reality of the development process. I am also a strong believer in making sure the public is aware of what is going on in local government and gathering their input as part of the process. While this is a unique and powerful process, it also opens up the door to restricting what may be in the best interest of the community.

An article published on in the April 2012 issue of Boston Magazine discusses the impact such a process can have on a city. In Boston, before any development is approved, it must first go before a citizen advisory committee. This presents an opportunity for many of the anti-development citizens to come out in protest of a project, stretching the approval process out for months and costing the business that much more to receive approval.

The article points out that a few citizens have the power to completely shut down a development because there is some aspect of it that they do not like — whether location, aesthetics or the development type.

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“This has to change,” the author wrote. “If it doesn’t, Boston could lose its competitive edge.”

One of the reasons cited most often for opposing any development is fear of the unknown. What will this development look like in the end? Will the developers follow through on their promises? What will this development do to the surrounding businesses or neighborhood? We must work together with the developers to help calm the fears of those who are anti-development.

A question I often ask to gauge whether a project is good for our community is, “If this development was near another business or if this development was next to another neighborhood, would you be excited about it?” Often, stepping back from the issue and questioning whether the development is in the best interest of our community is a much better approach than simply not doing to project. After all, we don’t want to turn down a positive development for our city and loose our “competitive edge.”

Just as we as humans go through growing pains during our teenage years, so, too, do cities. We must realize the pain will only be temporary and that, while not ideal for our individual situation, a development will help our community grow and become stronger.

What else should we be doing to help calm concerns of new development? Let’s talk about it!

Jon Hartman is director of Planning & Development for the City of Elizabethton. Reach him at Send comments or questions about his column to