The Challenge: Secure Town Meeting approval for a bylaw change a national development firm needs to build a proposed $100-million, 1.4-million SF business park in the Town of Uxbridge, MA
A well-known Boston-based commercial developer needed to amend the Town of Uxbridge’s zoning table of use before moving forward with a plan to build a new business park. The developer already had a nationally renowned buyer for 800,000 SF of space but couldn’t move forward until the zoning issues were settled. The project’s abutters were vocal opponents as were some other voters in town who opposed development and other potential impacts on their quality of life.
A secondary challenge facing the development team was that Uxbridge has an open Town Meeting form of government in which all 9,000+ registered voters can attend Town Meeting and vote, making targeted voter identification difficult. Additionally, because this was a zoning change, it required a two-thirds vote at Town Meeting, another challenging threshold to overcome.
Our Approach: Create and implement a multilayered community engagement campaign to mitigate negativity, while consolidating support. A second task was to effort the support of influential boards and commissions in Town and secure the necessary favorable recommendations to compel the Town’s legislative body to support the zoning initiative.
When a big-name company comes into a small town looking to develop 176 acres, there can be friction. But when Schneider Associates (SA) conducted an in-depth examination of the town and its main players, we saw a community looking to build up its corporate tax base, create new jobs, and increase revenue in a way that wouldn’t strain town services – all boxes checked by our client’s proposed business park. With that in mind, SA crafted messaging focusing on the financial and economic benefits to the town, along with our client’s stellar track record on similar projects in the region. All of that information went into personalized letters strategically sent to voters identified by SA, who have been to multiple Town Meetings over the previous three years.
We also cultivated and maintained relationships with key elected town officials on the Board of Selectmen, Planning Board, and Finance Committee by attending public meetings and meeting with them individually. At the same time, SA hosted a community information session specifically for abutters to meet the development team, share their concerns, and get answers.
With the prevalence of social media, SA knew online monitoring was essential to take the town’s pulse on the project. SA identified channels and online groups where discussion was taking place and built a list of supporters and opponents. By identifying and connecting with these people, we began creating project evangelists who publicly advocated for passage of the zoning bylaw change and road discontinuation on social media and in real life.
The Results: SA successfully and overwhelmingly secured the necessary two-thirds vote for both Town Meeting warrant articles to allow the project to move forward.
Not only did the two Town Meeting warrant articles pass, they passed with only 20 combined “no” votes. Due to all the work put into messaging and addressing residents’ concerns before Town Meeting even started, not a single person opposed to the project spoke on Town Meeting floor. That’s because prior to the vote, SA had already helped secure favorable recommendations from the Board of Selectmen, Planning Board, and Finance Committee, while identifying the most frequent Town Meeting attendees via public records and sending them personalized letters touting the project. If any negative sentiment appeared online, it was immediately caught and countered in real time by a group of supporters SA cultivated and transformed into assets.
Voters had so much information prior to Town Meeting that the two warrant articles passed without our client having to present or speak at all on Town Meeting floor, proving preparation really is everything.