Municipal Design Negotiations?  Yes you can….and then again….So can they….

What do you mean bargain?  Well, you probably know many buildings require review and approval by various municipal boards before they can be built. Some boards opine on the aesthetic characteristics  (like an Architectural Review Board), some on building size and use (such as a Zoning Board of Appeals), others on environmental impact like a Planning Board, and so forth.  The opinions and decisions they render have a tremendous impact on one’s ability to build and the resulting design.

One has to be able to negotiate the matter at hand with the municipality, understanding that the boards’ requirements both stated and implied. 

Boards do not wish to be seen as a “rubber stamp”.  While we respect their opinions civilly, we still stand firm when needed to protect the project’s interests- and yes- remain flexible to address needs of the neighborhood, environment, and budget!  It’s a give and take situation.


About the Boards

Many of the boards serve to interpret the laws and regulations in effect.  The Boards hold meetings where they review and decide on the projects merits and deficiencies.  It’s frequently incumbent on the designer to defend their project,  absorb or deflect criticism, set forth relevant precedents, discarded alternatives, “spin” and influence the boards toward the desired design and outcome.  The presentation to the Boards and public of projects are partly graphic, partly verbal, part stage-craft….., understanding the context of the application in precedence, community, and  “vibe”.

Some boards are staffed with true professionals and very engaged members with insightful comments that keep us very humble, other boards can be filled by people with little experience or knowledge, or worse – with an axe to grind.

These boards are constituted with members by appointment, election or luck.  While one would hope the board members take their duties seriously and stay objective about matters at hand. For example, the project applicant never fully knows relationships board members may have with a neighbor whose view will be blocked.  Did that board member recuse themselves?

Building in most towns is not as straight forward as one might believe. While there are rules, some are enforced, some are not, some are botched and mutilated into “sorta”, “kinda”, “when convenient” categories. And to know which apply and when they apply is gold.

Yes, you can haggle…just come prepared !

We know how to rub the underbelly

And if you don’t have the experience to play ball with Big Brother, you may want to let somebody do it for you.  As a current Planning Board member and  former building inspector, I speak “their” language and have been through over 20 years of these type of meetings and am well-qualified to get the job done.


If you have a challenging project, please call Steve now 914 980 5532.

Article by Steven Secon