Using Assisted Negotiation to Settle Land Use Disputes: a Guidebook for Public Officials

Friday, January 1, 1999
  • Are you about to update your community’s master plan?
  • Are you planning to run a public meeting on a controversial project?
  • Are you negotiating with a developer over the details of a subdivision plan?
  • Are you trying to balance environmental and economic development interests?
  • Are you dealing with transboundary disputes with neighboring communities?


If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, this Guidebook may help you learn how other communities and regional agencies throughout the United States are approaching these kinds of land use disputes in a new way.

Land use issues are becoming more and more complex, and it is often difficult for public officials to balance the contending forces of environmental protection, economic development and local autonomy. Polarization all too often leads to litigation, and the courts are not interested in reconciling legitimate differences in perspective.

We have found that sharing ideas and experiences among peers is a potent source of innovation in dispute resolution, as in other situations. For example, elected officials are more likely to pick up new ideas from one another than they are from the published work of academics or policy analysts. Similarly, business leaders and neighborhood activists are more highly influenced by the suggestions and recommendations of their respective colleagues.

To gain insight into these various perspectives in the case of land use disputes, we undertook an in- depth investigation of 100 communities around the United States that used assisted negotiation. Since different stakeholders perceive events differently, we interviewed all major players in each of the 100 case studies in order to provide outsiders with a full and rich understanding of the process.

Complementing the quantitative results of more than 400 interviews, five selected case studies in this Guidebook illustrate how assisted negotiation has been used effectively. Each case is linked with a different step in the assisted negotiation process.

While facilitation and mediation do not always produce settlements, they appear to be an important supplement to the traditional administrative, political and legal tools typically used to resolve land use disputes.

With the right kind of help, it is possible to:

  • write new comprehensive plans that can gain community-wide support;
  • find consensus even in the face of serious conflict;
  • balance environmental and economic concerns; and
  • improve relationships with neighboring communities.


We hope that this study of the attitudes and experiences of citizens, developers, public officials and other stakeholders who have used assisted negotiation to solve land use disputes in different parts of the country will prove instructive to others in similar circumstances.

This report was produced by Lawrence Susskind and the Consensus Building Institute for the Lincolcn Institute of Land Policy.