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4 Reasons Developers Should Work With A Local Land Use Attorney And Project Advocate

Owners and developers can study neighborhoods for future projects, but nothing beats on-the-ground expertise and familiarity with the politics, preferences and needs of the community. This is one facet of the job of a land use attorney who is also a project advocate.

Noel Hyun of Liner LLP offers four reasons why developers should work with a local advocate.

Noel Hyun of Liner LLP
Noel Hyun of Liner LLP

1. A local land use attorney and project advocate will understand the real estate micro-market.

When looking at property on the Westside, in DTLA or in the Valley, market trends (especially for developers) tend to remain local.

“You want to hire someone familiar with the neighborhood who knows what the cool retailers are down the block and what the needs are,” Liner LLP associate and City Hall veteran Hyun said. “They’ll know blocks [that] have been developed, what dead zones need to be filled in, and may know specifically what communities are asking for.”

In a dead zone, for example, developers need to make sure they have a plan in place to attract a great retail tenant to activate the area. That will impact how the architects design floor-to-ceiling heights at the ground level. As an added bonus, developers can then highlight this as a goal of the project itself, demonstrating that the development team has truly made the effort to contextualize the project within a local perspective.

This is especially true in busy, populated areas such as downtown Los Angeles and in the city’s walkable neighborhoods, where market fundamentals can vary from one block to another.

2. A local land use attorney and project advocate will understand community politics.

Developers learn quickly that firm support from elected leaders is crucial to the success of any project. A local land use attorney and project advocate inherently retains a deep understanding of hot-button community issues, and maintains relationships with elected officials. A local advocate can often negotiate or discuss project details with key community stakeholders and can foresee issues that would render a project dead on arrival.

The Arts District is one of those neighborhoods. Hyun discussed two of her recent projects, in which owners were told that the projects would be nearly impossible to entitle. Hyun, being familiar with the issues in that community (such as height and parking), worked closely with community leaders and with her clients as a liaison for a full year. Hyun secured community support for both projects.

“Others thought these properties would be nearly impossible to entitle simply because neighborhood support was difficult to garner,” Hyun said. “The key is to treat community members with respect, listen to them, and work in good faith to address their needs and issues. It’s about bringing the project along together, even if you agree to disagree. It’s a dialogue.”

3. A local land use attorney and project advocate will have the right relationships.

When establishing a development project, it is essential for managers and owners to develop and maintain solid relationships with local community stakeholders and hire the right consultant team. A local land use attorney and project advocate will know which architects’ designs and past projects are suitable for certain projects and which environmental consultants are most familiar with the area.

It is not just about the consultant team. A local land use attorney and project advocate will also be familiar with (and likely have strong relationships with) City Hall staff at various levels.

4. A local land use attorney and project advocate can leverage all the above in the right way.

A local land use attorney and project advocate will help put the pieces together, help developers see the big picture and implement an effective timing strategy.

Even with “other” right relationships, a local land use attorney and project advocate with experience pulling together community pieces and teams is essential to driving toward project success.

"Ultimately, it really does take a village," Hyun said. "Project success is about getting the project team, the city and the community on the same page."

A great local land use attorney and project advocate will be team-oriented and collaborative. An effective advocate will not only be able to handle technical details, but will also be able to see the big picture, anticipate roadblocks and develop a team strategy to avoid land mines.

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