Dec 13, 2018

Navigating municipal hearings

With its 6,963 units of government, more than any state in our nation, Illinois has no rival when it comes to the number of taxing bodies that residents and businesses must navigate through when seeking municipal approval. Further complicating matters is that each governmental unit has its unique customs and culture which greatly impacts how a given request is viewed.

This article focuses on real estate-related requests and provides tips and strategies for applicants to consider in advance of appearing before a municipal board.

Municipal hearings are not court proceedings

It is important to emphasize the practical benefits that a request will bring to the community. Attorneys should be cognizant that most (if not all) of the board members hearing presentations are non-attorneys and, in most cases, may not have professional experience in the development and execution of sophisticated real estate transactions. Therefore, the presenter should fully explain how the request will benefit the community on a practical level (i.e., job creation, economic development, community amenities, aesthetic improvements, etc.). Do not expect strong legal arguments or nuances to carry the day.

Know the audience

It is invaluable to know the audience and their level of real estate knowledge. Many municipalities videotape their meetings; therefore, it is wise to watch videos of the applicable board’s prior meetings in order to get a feel for their personalities and how they conduct business. If a video is not available, attend a meeting in person in advance of the hearing—it’s definitely worth the time investment.

Befriend the staff

Staff can be helpful by providing information as to what the board is accustomed to hearing and seeing during their hearings. Staff provide very useful insight as to what the board’s pressure points are and what the board is likely to ask during the hearing. It is also recommended to find out if past applicants submitted similar requests and if those requests were successful.

Meet the neighbors

It is imperative to know, to the extent possible, whether or not neighbors of the property have issues and may object to the request. Never underestimate the negative impact that one or two objectors can have on the hearing. It’s best to meet with neighbors early in the process and work with them to alleviate their concerns and answer their questions in advance of the hearing.

Be aware of local rules and customs

Since there is a great number of governmental bodies in Illinois with their own way of conducting respective hearings, make sure to review local rules pertaining to notices and any applicable ordinances related to the petition. Note that larger, home rule communities have a greater latitude as to how meetings are conducted and petitions are considered. Smaller communities also have unique procedures for conducting business so gather the information in advance to avoid surprises at  the hearing. Do not risk a procedural hiccup that could derail or deny the request.

Municipal hearings can be unpredictable and are susceptible to local politics. Chances for success improves by effectively and honestly communicating with neighbors and by doing the homework on the applicable community. In summary, be prepared to explain to the board why the approval of the request will make the community a better place.  

The Real Estate attorneys at Chuhak & Tecson have extensive experience handling municipal requests and will be happy to answer questions about the process or manage it from start to finish.

This Chuhak & Tecson, P.C. communication is intended only to provide information regarding developments in the law and information of general interest. It is not intended to constitute advice regarding legal problems and should not be relied upon as such.

Client alert authored by Kevin M. Coyne, Principal