Have you ever gotten a “NO” from a landowner? This is a quick story where I was able to get the landowner to move from a hard NO to a supportive YES and a donation of an easement. Hopefully, you will find a few principles that you can use as you are negotiating and dealing with landowners.
I will never forget sitting down with the COO and him saying, "No, we just can’t make this happen.” I was asking for a trail easement to allow the Riverwalk to continue down the river. His concerns were strangers being close to the building, the easement being too wide, and obstructing the view of the river. We already had funding in place for a design team and presented him with drawings, pictures, the exact width of the trail easement, and the easement document. It was not that he hated the Riverwalk, he generally liked the concept. As I dug a little deeper, I found that the COO was the son of the CEO, and when the CEO would come in from California a few times a year he would sit at his desk that faced the river. The son was doing his job and protecting his dad's favorite seat in the building.
We had never met in his Father’s office. We always met in a dark, windowless conference room or in the manufacturing facility. I asked the son if I could go into his dad's office and just sit for a moment and experience the view that his dad enjoyed. It was a simple office. It reminded me of my grandfather’s desk and chair. It had a kind of 1950's feel to it. Maybe this was furniture he loved and could not part with, but his wife wanted to get rid of it. Maybe this was a place he would come and reflect on his life. It did not exactly feel like a place where the CEO would come in and hire and fire people. Perhaps, I was way over-thinking this. I sat there and looked at the river. His office was on the ground floor. The windows were full glass across the entire back of the building. He had a 180-degree uninterrupted panoramic view up and down the river.
The son began talking about the view and how we just could not block it. He started shifting his conversation a little and talking more about the landscaping, glass walls, and height of people on bikes. As we were in his dad’s office, I noticed that he began to think creatively about crazy solutions. I realized, this was no longer about the piece of real estate with a metes and bounds description, nor was this about being against the Riverwalk and strangers being close to the building. This was about design.
As I was leaving the building and saying our goodbyes I turned and asked if I could bring the designers out to consider the glass wall idea and get a better sense of the site. The answer was "yes."
The designers were amazing. We did not build an expensive glass wall nor did I have any intention of that. We did get the landowner to agree to a donation of an easement. It was because we solved a design issue instead of a real estate issue. We solved their concerns about destroying the uninterrupted view with a gradual dip in the Riverwalk. Even better the Riverwalk was able to be connected and continue down the river.
Every landowner is different, and every project is different. I realize design will not be the solution every time, but it should be part of your toolkit. I would challenge you to think about the primary reasons a landowner is saying NO to you. You just might be able to solve the problem through design.
Some Next Steps:
1. Is the landowner saying No to your request for an easement?
2. Change the meeting location. If you have been meeting in the same place and getting the same answer, try changing the location.
3. Try getting the landowner to start thinking about a creative solution with you. Pose some potential design solutions and see how the landowner reacts: What if we were able to protect your view AND have the greenway? What if we were able to provide you access to trail as well?
4. Offer a picture. It is very difficult for many people to visualize what a greenway could like after construction. After coming up with some ideas, ask if you can provide a drawing for the landowner so they can see what it could look like after it is constructed?
5. Finally: For any landowner negotiation - Stop talking about property descriptions and size of the easements for a minute. Just listen to the landowner and try to understand where they are coming from before you bring them a solution.
Do you have a favorite story about using design that solved a real estate issue? What other landowner issues are you facing?
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