In recent years, we’ve often seen governing bodies and voters balk at using tax revenue for infrastructure and services. On the other side, developers sometimes believe that if a privately built road or sewer connection benefits the whole community, the community ought to share in the cost to build it. And if private money pays for the construction of public facilities, who should set the design standards? Who’s responsible for maintenance over the years?
Such questions are forcing cities and developers to rethink the ways they work with one another.
We certainly see the changes at Weyerhaeuser Real Estate Company, the state’s largest master-planned community developer. We are currently building three communities, Northwest Landing in Pierce County, plus Snoqualmie Ridge and Redmond Ridge in King County. Together they total 5,400 acres and eventually will include 7,800 homes.
The strategy for successful large developers, such as Weyerhaeuser Real Estate Company, must involve long-term planning. We don’t just create infill or build a subdivision onto an existing community—we define a new community by what we build, how well we build it and how we make all the pieces work together.
Building social ties—not just homes
At Northwest Landing, our company is building a $25 million sewer system that will serve the City of DuPont for years to come. We paid for a new Interstate 5 interchange. We built the municipal water system and donated money and land for schools. Those projects have meant many trips to City Hall, the state capitol, the school board and a lot of collaboration with other government officials.
But it’s not only brick and mortar projects that make a community. We weave the fabric of community spirit by hosting events like summer concerts on the Village Green, the Fourth of July Parade and a “Kid’s Night Out”. We’ve fostered social ties by sponsoring clubs and creating opportunities for people to get to know one another.
Acquire support with public access
As a result, citizens often seek out the developer instead of the City to solve problems, here as well as in other places. In DuPont, Weyerhaeuser Real Estate Company receives calls about speeders, unleashed dogs, ice on the roads, suspicious characters and deer sightings. We’re very accessible—our offices are open seven days a week, eight hours or more a day—and we’ve accumulated a record of solving problems.
Developers and builders can build public support by being visible in the community. There are a number of channels to reach people directly—newsletters, flyers and mailings, but we’ve found the most effective communication is through old-fashioned face-to-face meetings.
In one forum or another, we have probably talked individually with hundreds of DuPont residents. In a city with a population of 1,700, that’s a large percentage. We’ve sponsored “sounding board” sessions with a dozen or so different residents every week and hold larger neighborhood open houses every other month. It’s a great chance for us to learn about what concerns people have, what they value, and what they expect of us. We also try to explain what’s coming up in the way of development.
Recently, we’ve shared a proposal to amend the City’s comprehensive plan and the outlook for Northwest Landing’s second residential village, scheduled to open this fall. Neighbors seem to really like the idea of a parks corridor that leads through many neighborhoods to the Puget Sound bluff, a 20-acre park in the center of the city, and consolidating retailers on visible sites rather than dispersing them throughout the city.
Sometimes, developers and builders keep things very close to their vest. In fact, the thought of spending several hours in a room with customers sends a lot of companies running. Maybe they think that hiding the motivation behind their plans will make things easier, but it only breeds an atmosphere of distrust. When the communication lines are open, the public can be more confident and most doubts are alleviated.
Even builders working on small projects can benefit from open communications and good public relations. At the start of a lobby renovation, a local contractor sent a friendly letter to the building’s 20 tenants. The letter introduced the contractor, explained the project, gave contacts for questions or noise complaints, and thanked neighbors in advance for their patience during construction. Thus, the tenants were favorably inclined to the project from the beginning.
Author David Brentlinger is general manager of Northwest Landing in DuPont.