If you have ever had the pleasure of attending a town planning board meeting (and who hasn’t?), you have probably seen the NIMBY-ers — clots of enraged homeowners who surge to their feet with tears of salty conviction in their eyes, planning board documents clutched in their sweaty, quaking fists as they demand why – WHY – the planners have the audacity to consider this ill-conceived clusterfuck of a development in THEIR neighborhood.
The NIMBY-ers will make an array of arguments as to why the development is a disastrous choice for the town, how it will bring transients, dopers, graffiti artists, ISIS supporters, socialists, flat earthers, rude people, poachers and various other unmentionables to the area. The NIMBY-ers really only have one concern, though: they don’t want to have to wake up every day and look at that shit.
And they have a point.
I experienced this fervor one morning when I woke up and saw our absentee neighbor had elected to start smashing the lovely forest abutting our property to toothpicks with a phalanx of heavy machinery hauled onto the property the night before under cover of darkness.
I goddamn love forests, and I addressed the situation by using my reporter skills to search through property records to find out what kind of monster was turning the Ferngully next to my house into a Mad Max-esque wasteland. I found the person, whose primary address was just down the road, and left him a note with a lot underlined words on it demanding he call me.
It turns out the person receiving the vaguely threatening note was NOT the property owner, and the forest remains smashed. But I had experienced the NIMBY attitude — I didn’t want to LOOK at that shit.
There are three types of developments NIMBY-ers rail against: things that must go somewhere, things for newcomers, and things for visitors.
A good example of the former is a homeless shelter. People see the need for a homeless shelter, but no one wants to live near one. A better example is a 66-unit development currently being constructed in Greenport, Columbia County by the Mental Health Association of Columbia-Greene Counties to serve those with mental health issues and those making less than $28,000 a year. I attended the public hearings for the Green Gardens project a couple years back, and the vitriol was just flying. Many of the people in Greenport framed the argument in terms of how it would abuse resources in the town, namely the roads around the development and emergency services. These arguments were always pretty paltry, and were obvious cover for the fact that neighbors didn’t want a bunch of psychotic poor people in their neighborhood. A former sheriff’s deputy stood up at the public hearing with burning eyes and got to the point: he said he was familiar with the mentally ill from his former work, and they were liable to go off their medication and start stabbing people.
But, like homeless shelters, these resources need to be placed SOMEWHERE, so these situations can turn into a game of hot potato between neighborhoods until the one holding the smoldering tuber is the neighborhood with the least amount of resources to fight it.
Then there’s things for newcomers. This can be seen in the fight against a proposed 700-unit housing development/shopping center in a rural stretch of the already-rural Claverack in Columbia County.
The project, which is being developed by New York State Senator George Amedore’s company, has had a variety of angry missives written about it, and the planning board meetings have been packed.
NIMBY-ers are fighting this developments because of territorialism — they were here first. They were here first, and moved here because it was a particular community with a particular vibe and a particular look, and they don’t want it changed.
This territorialism is the same idea behind anti-gentrification movements, both urban and rural. With things for newcomers, the economics can go both ways: the poor against rich people moving in, or the rich against the poor moving in. Arguments made against projects built for the poor I find generally reprehensible. I once sat through a planning board meeting in Saratoga County where a married couple in near-hysterics went on a rant about how a new Wal-Mart would lead to a dramatic spike in crime.
I am not a homeowner, so it’s easy for me to discount these arguments, since I could simply move out of my own forest-destruction situation. But NIMBY-ers almost exclusively own their homes, and I sympathize with the feeling of creating a sanctuary over the years, only to have it flipped by a sudden incursion, with essentially no viable options for getting out of there.
On the other hand, the NIMBY-ers changed the environment when they first moved to a community, and the newcomers they rail against will one day be NIMBY-ers themselves, spearheading grassroots movements against the next generation. And the cycle continues.
The third type of developments NIMBY-ers rail against are things for visitors. I have the most sympathy for these rabble-rousers.
I saw this front and center when covering the pushback from residents against Heartwood, a proposed boutique camping site in Gardiner, Ulster County. Whether the concept is a good idea or not depends on perspective: many people who do not live in Gardiner think it’s a cool idea, and many people who live in Gardiner do not.
The difference is, the visitors will experience the joys of boutique camping for a day, while the residents will experience the irritations of living near the site for the rest of their lives. NIMBY-ers of this sort are the most legit, because they are facing off with the opinions of those who have no investment in the community, and are simply passing through.
When these decisions are put to planning boards, I suggest they take this into consideration: the board is there to serve the townspeople, and not tourists.