You have just moved into your dream house in what you believe to be the perfect community. Everything is great for a while. A few years later you receive a notice about a development being proposed in your community. Maybe it’s just a project that you think will greatly impact your life in the community. Maybe it’s a proposal to build a strip mall next to your home. Now you have a choice to make. Do you just sit back and hope the town planning board does, what you think is, the right thing? Do you chain yourself to a tree? Do you try to stop or, at least, alter the project by getting involved in the approval process? I would suggest that getting involved is your best bet.
First off, let’s address why sitting back and letting Town officials take care of things is not a good option. Depending on the size of your community, your town may not have professional staff to guide decision makers into evaluating the proposal correctly. Further, if no one is paying attention the town could just rubber stamp the project and not go through as rigorous an evaluation as may be warranted. Finally, if volunteer board members only hear from the project proponent regarding the standards to be applied, they could just default to proponent’s position. Getting involved in the process can provide balance to the process and is the reason public notices go out to begin with. Community involvement is an essential piece of the planning process.
Because the project proponent has a burden to show all standards are met when seeking approval, someone should make sure they do the heavy lifting to meet that burden. That can mean presenting evidence contrary to what is being provided by the proponent. It can also mean making sure that public body is following the proper standards. It’s not uncommon for some smaller communities, without planning staff, to be unsure of what standards are applied. Further, sometimes zoning ordinances provide standards that are up for interpretation. If you don't inform the board of your position, they can not consider it when deciding. You can be that counterweight to the proponent and make sure there is a fair process.
Finally, I will note that the earlier you start, the better. This is important for purposes of potential appeals down the road. First, your right to appeal can be contingent on whether you participated in the earlier proceedings. Second, often you will not be able to present new evidence to whoever is reviewing the initial decision maker. You want any information that you think will help your position in the record before the reviewing body. Finally, early involvement can lead to a better end result for all involved. For example, if a developer sees the potential for excessive resources being used up early in the approval process, it could end up working with you and the community on a modification make the project more palatable. This result can save all involved a great deal of time and money.
Don't just sit on the sidelines if you're town is evaluating a project that you think will negatively impact your community. Consulting with a land use attorney can help you find weaknesses in an applicants proposal and make your opposition more effective. Just an hour or two of attorney time can give you a much stronger position than, "I don't like this and it should be stopped".