You're a Developer? Welcome to the Neighbourhood…
If you spend time chatting to experienced Property Developers, eventually the war stories will begin to emerge.

For example, the neighbour, a retired lawyer, with time on his hands who decided to make it his mission in life to make sure the Developer's project never got off the ground...

Okay, this is one of the more extreme examples, but I can assure you that there are plenty of variations with a similar theme.

Basically, when someone finds out the house next door is about to get knocked down and replaced with some shiny new dwellings, they're pissed off. The future is clear - goodbye to their peace and quiet. Goodbye to all the trees on the site, further eroding the green leafiness of the area. Goodbye to all their privacy thanks to windows overlooking their private space.

Now I'm pissed off on their behalf! Seriously, though, given all the downsides for the locals, it's hardly surprising that news of your development isn't going to make them happy. But what can you do about that?
Their Concerns are Valid

This is the first step, and it's one of the hardest ones for a lot of Developers to accept. When you're caught up in the excitement of securing a site, and putting together concept plans to take to Council, it's easy to forget that not everybody is as excited as you.

The reality for the neighbours is a very different thing. It's likely other Developers have built in the neighbourhood before you, so chances are they have some reason for concern.

Building sites are noisy and messy, and that situation goes on for many, many months. Lots of Developers ruthlessly remove every bit of vegetation from the site, leaving gaps in the canopy which are both unattractive to neighbours and may remove valuable shade. Tradie vehicles block up the street.

Take the time to stop and recognise that your neighbours' concerns are valid. Or as the saying goes, walk a mile in their shoes.
So What Should You Do?

Now that you understand the locals most likely have good reason to be unhappy about your upcoming development, it's time to do something about it.

First up, recognise that although there are some things you can't do much about (e.g. noise and vehicles), a lot of the concerns are about "unknowns". This is particularly true of the design of your development.

For example, are your windows going to overlook their backyard? Will it mean more cars parked in the street on an ongoing basis? Will it be ugly to look at?

The easiest first step is to go and ask them. I find the earlier you do this, the better it will be for you in the long run. Often this works best at concept plan stage, when you can give them a rough idea of what's planned and demonstrate things like windows being located to avoid overlooking their backyard.

Discuss your plans to reinstate mature trees after the dwellings are complete, provide details for the management of site runoff, and more. Give them your business card and say you're happy to hear from them if they have any concerns.

Basically, do your market research. The more you know about the things that are likely to upset your neighbours and so lead them to objecting to your proposal (or constantly calling Council during construction to complain about your site), the more you can do to cut those issues off before they even become issues.

Any designs you lodge with Council should have already taken care of their concerns.

There's also a major bonus in chatting to the neighbours - local knowledge. Some of them may have lived there for decades, and either put in planning applications themselves or followed the fortunes of others who have done so. You can learn a HUGE amount from this type of conversation, so find ways to tap into it for your own benefit.
Who Should You Talk To?

I've talked a lot about discussing your development with the neighbours, but how big a net should you cast?

Essentially, this comes down to the size of your development. If you have a 1 into 2 development, then of course talk to the people to the left and right of your site. And remember - there are people who live on the other side of the back fence, too, who are going to be impacted by a new dwelling in your backyard, particularly if it's 2-storeys.

I'd also go a few doors up the street in either direction, and directly opposite, although for those neighbours it might be simpler to keep the conversation general. Just introduce yourself, say what's happening, and give them your card so they can contact you if there's an issue with the site, rather than getting into all the design elements.
If your development is larger, for example 4 or more townhouses, or possibly even a small apartment block, then cast the net wider. Doorknock the whole street, and a fair chunk of the street behind the site as well.

And for a really big development, you will potentially need to engage with the whole suburb. Make it known that you're keen for community engagement as part of the planning stages.

Big developments affect a whole range of things from visual aesthetics to traffic and pressure on existing local services, so you need to demonstrate you've taken those things into consideration with your project.

Will It Work?

Let's get real here - there are some people who just won't want to come to the party. Like the retired lawyer I mentioned to start with. For him, it wasn't about whether or not the development was "good" - he was just enjoying causing trouble because he was bored (at least that was the Developer's take on the situation!).

Most people, though, just like to know that they matter, and that their concerns have been taken into consideration. Will you always be able to cater for those concerns? No. Sometimes it can't be done, or for budget reasons, won't be done. But the fact that you've listened to them is hugely important and will certainly win you some brownie points for the future.

The underlying concept to take away here is that when you're developing a site, your neighbours matter. Take the time to involve them, listen to them and do your best to help them feel that if there's an issue, they can call you and get it resolved.

And who knows? If you do a good enough job of both building relationships and building the development, they might even be happy to welcome you to the neighbourhood.
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