MYTH #6: NIMBYs are all alike.

A targeted approach is even more necessary for outreach to opponents than it is for supporters, because NIMBY opposition can be quite diverse. Before willy-nilly setting up meetings with neighbors and interest groups, ask yourself why people might oppose your project. Most NIMBY hostility is likely based on one or more of the following:

  • Lack of information
  • Lack of involvement
  • Conflict of ideologies
  • Conflict of interests

Each cause of opposition requires a different approach, so avoid treating them alike.

A great deal of NIMBY opposition is often based on misinformation or exaggerated fears of project impacts. If neighbors think your proposed 3-story building will be 6 stories high and will block their scenic view, correcting misperceptions may alleviate their concern. Similarly: “The developers are not going to cut down the oak trees on the north side of the property? Well, maybe the project is not so bad after all.”

“What’s that you say? There was a fire and the property has been vacant for three years, and you didn’t evict little old ladies so you could build? Maybe I need to think about this some more.”

Opposition based on misinformation is easiest to overcome. Sometimes simply providing correct project information, especially when the source is credible, can be enough to counter misperceptions or distortions. In that case, providing the facts through one-way communications (website, direct mail or hand-delivered brochure) may be enough. If a friendly local chamber of commerce or merchant association is willing to be the conduit to correct misstatements, so much the better.

A second cause of opposition, lack of involvement with the community, has already been discussed. Adjacent neighbors, community leaders and other stakeholders expect to be consulted in advance, and ignoring them is perilous. Making an extra effort to listen to citizens in this grouping can pay dividends.

A third cause of opposition to real estate projects – ideological conflicts – cannot be resolved so easily. People who attach the highest moral value to environmental preservation, for example, may view development of open space as “raping the land.” They will in turn see the real estate sponsor as unethical or even evil.

Similarly, those who subscribe to the Protestant Ethic may strongly object to development of affordable housing or government-supported social service facilities on ideological grounds. In their view, people should be encouraged to stand on their own two feet.

For those with extreme moral or ideological values in opposition to particular land uses, compromise is often out of the question. For a perspective, let’s examine our own ethical values. Would we compromise with a child molester? Trade-offs and negotiations would be almost as unacceptable for those with extreme views against development as they are for most of us on the issue of child abuse.

While compromise may be difficult in the face of ideological conflicts, the project sponsor can at least hope to demonstrate other shared values. Showing a concern for values held in common (e.g., clean air and water, habitat preservation, jobs for local residents, creation of revenues for vital public services, the democratic process) may reduce hostility and make it harder for ideologues to demonize the developer.

A fourth cause of opposition to land use proposals is based on conflicts of interests. Fortunately, these can frequently be resolved through negotiation and compromises.

Frank Noto

About Frank Noto

Frank Noto is president of GCA Strategies, which helps mobilize community and governmental support for controversial land use projects. The firm has successfully assisted clients from Maui to Maryland to overcome NIMBY opposition and win local real estate entitlements. For more information, contact him at fnoto@GCAStrategies.com or (415) 834-5645, or see the GCA website at www.gcastrategies.com.

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