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Some thoughts on getting a project through the community process.


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Off the top - I'm operating in BC Canada - so this experience is Canadian. However, I suspect dealing with any local government is less about the actual process and more about handling the system.

A quick recap - over the last eight months or so, we've slowly been winding our way through the rezoning process to allow us to build a micro-distillery on our farm.

When we originally approached our local government with our plan, they were less than enthusiastic. While in theory, they are positively inclined towards the craft beverage industry, a couple of recent previous attempts have not come to fruition and a local brewery is embroiled in a very contentious land use battle. 

After that meeting, we extensively canvased our neighbors and they generally liked the idea. Although, as the process deepened many of these people turned on us. When we inquired as to why they changed their minds, we often heard; 'Well, we didn't think you'd actually do anything.'

Umm, how do you think I got a job, bought a house and raised a family? By blowing smoke up your ass?

Early on, the forces of 'no', pulled ahead and things began to look bleak. We eventually countered by focusing in on some of the key players and cutting them out from the crowd. We brought them in and gave them a private 'preview' of our impending public meeting.

They complained about traffic, smells, drinking, music - the usual suspects. At these 'pre-meetings', we addressed these issues and got some general side agreements going. At the same time - we watched the timing of the public meeting very carefully. We determined that the rules for advertising the meeting insisted that we advertise within a certain time frame of the meeting. As luck and strategy would have it, we were able to run our ad a week earlier, catching the newspaper two editions before the meeting. This ensured during the week of the meeting, there was no advertising.

We also changed the venue from the regular 'public meeting' place (well known for endless community conflict) to the local school library. Who can yell in a school library?

Insert evil chuckle here.

Predictably, quite a few of the people who were all worked up with no cause simply forgot about the meeting and those who cared enough, actually showed up.

The big Public Meeting was held last night (June8/17).

Although the meeting itself wasn't overly large for all the hype, the people who showed up were significant. Including, several who were representatives from the sub-committees (land use/community plan etc.) who are also considering the request.

As the meeting got going, the planning department gave their pitch and nicely justified the reasons why the project fit the local community and land use plans and goals. Then, I gave a riveting 20 minute presentation speaking about the land, our rural lifestyle, craft distilling, the proposed distillery building and process of making alcohol and wrapped it up addressing the concerns we'd been dealing with.

I knocked it out of the park, clearly setting a new standard and expectation for future public meeting presentations. (My TV background gave me a significant advantage in this arena.)

The 'no' forces rallied with some questions about noise, traffic and fire suppression and then settled down and the rest of the meeting was a love fest for the project. The representatives from the sub-committees were all thrilled and invited us to their meetings. It was great. A very positive evening all around. I would say we gained an advantage last night and the rest is all about patience, while staying cool and vigilant. However, with a much more optimistic outlook, we're now planning to get the shovels in the ground by July.

Have a great day!

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