I recently wrote about the merits of using mediation as a tool to resolve business disputes relating to land and business acquisition, land development, public permitting and related conflicts. Mediation is especially helpful, in my opinion, when money is less the object in dispute and it is more so about a difference of opinion. Of course, some disputes center on bona fide legal issues in which resorting to the courts may be an essential first step; but even then, mediation is frequently used to bring resolution to the disputed issues, including those involving public agencies.
Developers often feel that cities just aren’t listening to them. That was the case in a recent mediation in which the dispute was premised on a land development project and a difference of opinion with the local jurisdiction about the correct manner to move the project ahead. Out of frustration that his objections were not being heard, our client resorted to litigation to get the attention of the local jurisdiction. While money was involved, it was not an enormous sum. Of greater concern was our client’s objection to how he was being treated by city representatives. It was affecting his business and his future relationship with the city. In this case, mediation provided a forum, moderated by the mediator, who not only provided an objective sounding board for the client, but also was a reputable messenger to the city participants in the mediation. In the end, the matter settled on terms that, while not ideal, were nonetheless acceptable. More importantly, the parties brought the dispute to a conclusion that will enable the underlying project to advance to final approval.
The lesson here is that it’s not always (or even only) about the money; business people are usually pretty adept at figuring out how to compromise a purely financial dispute. Disputes that are more personal and involve someone’s view of “principle” usually require an official venue to voice the objection. When the party or parties feel they have had their opportunity to speak their mind(s), it becomes easier for them to accept the need to move ahead and to accept compromise.