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A Nose for NIMBYs

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Don’t worry if you are missing your favorite science-fiction show to conduct a public hearing at the Planning Commission. You may be lucky enough to see shape-shifters in real life. If you are considering a land use change that will affect a residential neighborhood, perfectly normal, rational people will grow fangs and acquire the ability to spit fire.

Changes in the neighborhood spark a primitive reaction in defense of home and family. As a planning commissioner, you need to keep your cool when confronted by angry neighbors, and recognize the difference between legitimate concerns and irrational fears. You need a nose for NIMBYs.

Here are some points to remember:

NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard) is human nature, but sometimes you need to rise above it. The most common neighborhood concerns are: “Don’t increase traffic past my house. The children will be at risk.” “Don’t allow smaller lots or smaller homes in my neighborhood. My property value could decline.” “I was told that this street would never go through, this land would never be developed, etc. How can you betray these promises?”

Concerned citizens are right to be alert to neighborhood threats, but NIMBYs carry it to an extreme, exaggerating the threats or refusing to accept something that’s a normal part of community life. Perhaps they are beside themselves because they moved to their current location to escape development that is now inexorably following them. Perhaps they are secretly panicking at the idea of outsiders in their territory, whether it be “those people” moving in down the block, or motorists driving past their homes to get to another destination.

Your job is to look out for the whole community: townhouse and apartment dwellers as well as single family residents, and people living on through streets as well as those who want to live on dead-ends and force the traffic onto other streets. Ask questions or have staff find the information you need to evaluate the concerns. Is the traffic going to be greater than the standards for the street? Is the proposed land use so noxious that it would reduce property values, or is it simply something different from what’s there? Were the “promises” made by a city representative or by a realtor? If the concerns don’t hold up, don’t feel guilty about voting in favor of the project. …

End of excerpt

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