David Clem: neighbors can be a developer’s best friends

David Clem, a former Cambridge city councilor and once the largest developer of life science space in the Boston area, said that developers need to engage with neighbors.

“Most people look at neighbors the way small developers look at bankers: they do not want to engage,” he said. “Listen to your neighbors, not city hall. Having the neighbors oppose you is a never-ending struggle.”

He was speaking at the most recent of the Congress for the New Urbanism-New England chapter’s Small Developer Round-Tables at the Re Work coworking space in Boston. Clem’s topic was on navigating local regulations.

He also recommended that developers know the regulations better than the city officials. When redeveloping a building at 270 Sidney Street in Cambridge, he said that knowing that they were allowed to have parking offsite in a structure within a certain distance meant that they could use more of the building as rentable space.

“The zoning ordinance is a very crude tool for design,” Clem said. “Planning has become intellectually bankrupt. We don’t plan in this country, we mitigate.”

He said that for working with neighbors one of the best tools available was a software called Turning Point that allows people to vote anonymously at public meetings on project issues and options. He said it was great for participation, empowering people to support ideas when confronted with loud people monopolizing discussions.

“Your neighbors are your biggest assets,” he said.




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