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Name Calling In Land Use Debates – We Are All NIMBYs!

A discussion of the land use term NIMBY, how the term is a tactic to discourage criticism of development proposals and why, despite the negative energy of the term, all of us are NIMBYs anyway.

Look out a back window of your home.  What do you see?  Odds are you generally like the view and are content with it. 

I’m looking out the back window of my home as I type this, and I like what I see, too - it’s comfortable to me because it’s what I’ve been looking at for years and I understand it. 

But suppose some economic development idea comes along with the potential for something different to be seen out our back windows or near our neighborhood – something that is unfamiliar, something we consider undesirable, something that could be noisy, smelly, potentially polluting, lit up at night, super-sized or heavily trafficked – how do we feel?  We become concerned that the sanctity of our home and the lifestyle and character of our town could be in jeopardy.  And most of us want to take action to protect our lifestyle and tranquility.

The reaction I describe here is entirely normal and I would imagine that nearly 100% of Simsbury homeowners would have the exact same reaction if some surprise development situation came to affect them out their back window.  We all want to better understand what could happen to us and what a development idea means to us.  So why is it that whenever this happens and when residents ask developers and public officials the tough questions, or demand equal public audience and consideration, those residents are often labeled NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard)?

Acrimony in such situations often comes from surprises.  Surprises often come from lack of holistic communication and government and political openness.  Surprises also often come from inconsistent, incorrect, or overly-creative use of zoning regulations. 

Zoning regulations and zone designations are designed to define desired and appropriate land usage, development processes and harmony between adjoining and area properties.  When coupled with other land use planning documents, zoning should allow for a streamlined development process that is consistent with the vision, form and character desired for our Town and protects the rights of all property owners.

However in recent years I have observed a trend where an increasing number of development proposals tend to emerge into public view from the “dark of night” and are too often inconsistent with zoning regulations, their property zone designations or the Simsbury Plan of Conservation and Development. 

Plus in recent years some Simsbury Zoning Regulations have been revised in increasingly less precise and less metric oriented ways and the recent creation and usage of the Planned Area Development (PAD) zone is being used as a catch all for developments that don’t fit a property’s designated zone.  Too often variances are sought, and commissions seem too willing to consider such accommodations.  These trends and others have caused much community tension, hostility and rancor in recent years when new development proposals come to town.  There are several proposals in Simsbury as I write this Blog that are embroiled in controversy for these very reasons.

Every potential economic development project is in someone’s backyard either directly or metaphorically.  To me the harm of the NIMBY label is that it attempts to strip concerned parties of their rights to be informed and it tries to inhibit inquiry or challenge by making the resulting adversity uncomfortable in a community like ours where people work hard to get along.  Those who use the label NIMBY are merely name callers and should be called out for doing so.

Some simple Internet research supports the suggestion that the use of the term NIMBY is nothing more than a tactic used by people with development interests to create a negativism towards any opposition.  One representative website that discusses how to manage development issues refers to “NIMBY Syndrome”.  Other sites describe methods to get inside the heads of people on the various opposing sides of development and assist those on the “build it” side of the equation.  It is clear that passions can be high on both sides of a development proposal.  However that doesn’t mean that people questioning or potentially opposed to a development should be negatively labeled any more than a developer should be negatively labeled.

So what can be done in Simsbury to better manage economic development and to minimize projects that cause tension and conflict?  Here are suggestions for people on all sides of the issue.

Some Suggestions for Residents & Citizens:

  • Pay attention and be involved in land use issues in Simsbury.  This helps prevent surprises when a development idea surfaces.  Attend Economic Development Commission (EDC), Planning Commission, Zoning Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, and Board of Selectman meetings.  The announcements for these meetings can be automatically emailed to you by signing up at this link: Click Here. And if you can’t attend the meetings in person, watch them on Simsbury TV
  • Be familiar with relevant Simsbury land use documents
  • Understand the rights of landowners who own developable land by becoming familiar with available properties in town and the zone designations for them.
  • Talk to your neighbors about what you learn and what is going on that could affect your “backyard”.  Urge your neighbors to be involved too.
  • Speak to your elected and appointed officials about what you want to see developed in Simsbury.  Urge them to be more proactive in attracting desired development to Simsbury.

Some Suggestions for Simsbury Land Owners and Developers:

  • Be familiar with the Simsbury survey, POCD, planning, zoning and transportation documents.  Links are above for these.
  • Dialogue with residents and understand their likes and dislikes, their concerns and issues.  Build cordial relationships and develop trust with your neighbors and interested parties and groups.  Ask their opinions about what they think would be successful on your property.  Ask residents how to harmonize your development business plans with the Town Survey results and your market studies.  Share your research with residents so they can understand it, do their own research, or perhaps be helpful with opinions or feedback.
  • Look for ways to make your business plans conform to zones and regulations first.
  • Don’t expect variances, appeals, zone changes and the like to happen uneventfully and without opposition.  Decide if your proposal is best furthered via a collegial or a confrontational process.  I think the answer is obvious.

Some Suggestions for Elected and Appointed Simsbury Officials:

  • Spend more time proactively speaking with landowners, developers, residents and other interested parties.  The key is to be proactive versus reactive as leaders.  Successful politics looks for ways to make all parties happy with an idea or action.  Success happens through understanding, courtesy, respect, mediation, and compromise.  It is a politician’s job to foster these dialogues to make Simsbury function better and be more successful.
  • Work to allow managed Public Audience at all public meetings for all boards and commissions.  This allows anyone to speak and discuss issues and concerns with our officials and it allows the Public to hear what others have to say in an efficient, open and honest manner.  People appreciate their opportunity to speak and be heard about the issues that matter to them.  Encourage and support Simsbury TV to broadcast these meetings so information can go out to the widest possible public audience.

To conclude, it is well established in a community like ours that what’s mine is mine; what’s yours is yours; and what’s ours is ours.  From this, it is normal for various constituencies to have different views of how a community evolves.  As a community we need to look for ways to work better together to continue the responsible expansion of Simsbury in a way that generates a net positive benefit for us all.

As always, I welcome your feedback via comments in this blog or via email.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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