Responding to Streams of Land Use Disputes: A Systems Approach

Matthew McKinney
Monday, October 1, 2007

Practical Strategies for Planners, Decision Makers, and Stakeholders

Land use disputes plague municipal planning and politics — driving up development costs, leading to expensive court battles, and causing civic discord in cities and towns. Typically treated as isolated occurrences, such disputes often take officials by surprise. However, a report by the Public Policy Research Institute at the University of Montana and the CBI provides strategies to help municipalities prevent disputes from erupting.

The report, entitled Responding to Streams of Land Use Disputes: A Systems Approach, surveys a variety of existing practices in 27 North American communities and states, and offers a prescriptive framework for planners, planning board members, civic officials, developers, citizens and other stakeholders who wish to avoid unproductive and costly disputes.

Written by dispute resolution practitioners, the Streams report explores how municipalities are learning to manage streams of disputes in a systematic, measured way.

Bill Diepeveen of the Alberta Ministry of Municipal Affairs states, “The report brings to light innovations being implemented across the U.S. and Canada and is the first of its kind.”

The Streams report is designed to help stakeholders spend resources on collaborating instead of fighting.

“When I sit down with parties to a land use conflict they each…believe the other is there to take advantage of them, or to in some way take their rights away. Over 85% of the time we are able to bring about a resolution through mediation that is acceptable to each party. This report helps point out how stakeholders can focus their resources in the most productive and rewarding manner,” says Steve Charbonneau of Community Mediation Concepts in Colorado.

Patrick Field, co-author of the report, presented its findings at the American Planning Association National Conference in April 2008.