“Hysteria” marks responses from neighbors to proposed nearby developments?

One man who has “monitored and live-tweeted dozens and dozens—and dozens and dozens—of community meetings” regarding development in San Francisco describes the tenor of the public comments this way:

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The meetings tend to be formal. But people’s participation tends to be, well, a little unmeasured, Fruchtman told me. “Hysteria,” he said. “There’s often a sense of hysteria at these meetings that is not reflected in what you read in the press.” He recalled the time that a person described his fight to prevent the construction of a navigation center for homeless services as a kind of personal “Little Bighorn.” Or the time another person objected to the conversion of a parking lot on the grounds that it would increase traffic. Such rhetoric is “intellectual malpractice,” Fruchtman added. And the intemperate rants of the people who show up matter, as city officials hear such impassioned claims mostly from a privileged class trying to keep things as they are.

Having studied my share of public meetings, this description rings true. This does not mean every public comment rises to this level but residents and neighbors can regularly attempt to make their point strongly.

As this article notes, public commenters have little incentive not to state their case forcefully. They are living in the area. They think their property is at risk. Local officials serve at their behest (whether elected directly by residents or not). Who is going to call them out on their strong emotions or statements?

Now this would make for an interesting record: cataloging the ways that residents oppose development proposals. Based on what I have seen, I could imagine these themes would come up regularly: traffic, light, noise, too much density, a difference in character with the existing neighborhood would come up regularly, and a threat to property values. Additionally, how do residents present these concerns, with what tone, and with what public displays?

NIMBY concerns about affordable housing even when it is not adjacent to single-family homes

A proposed project in northwest Chicago that would include some affordable housing units has raised concerns from residents…who do not live adjacent to the property:

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But the plans have not been embraced by all in the 41st Ward and its neighborhoods filled with postwar bungalows and ranch-style homes. Though the complex would be located in a far stretch of the city next to offices and hotels bordering Park Ridge, residents say they fear it will congest traffic and overcrowd schools.

John Frano, who lives about a mile away in Oriole Park, said the apartment complex will create too much bustle in a section of the city known for being more serene and spacious…

Retired Chicago police Sgt. Salvatore Reina, a longtime owner of a two-flat in Oriole Park, said he opposes the Glenstar tax break partly because it feels unfair to smaller landlords like him. He added that he worries about having to bid against the potentially lower rents in the future complex…

“These neighborhoods are not made for massive multiunit buildings,” Reina said. “When you bring more people in, other issues are going to arise with that too. Who knows what they are? Some could just be quality-of-life issues.”

While there is more at play here – the role of aldermanic prerogative and how exclusion shapes residential patterns – these are common NIMBY concerns: traffic, the effect on schools, large buildings, and how might move into the new units. At the same time, if you cannot build affordable housing units here, where can they be constructed? Even the location of affordable housing units in a building similar in size to adjacent buildings and not adjacent to single-family homes leads to such responses.

The reason I emphasize the proximity of residents is that I found when studying proposals for land or buildings from religious groups (here and here) proximity of residents to the property appeared linked to the concerns raised. Those who have purchased a home or housing unit often do not like the idea that someone wants to significantly alter the building or property next to you.

This is not the case here. Affordable housing is so undesirable in the United States for established homeowners and residents that it is difficult to construct. There are other barriers at play as well but consistent and loud opposition from residents in the community is common. They view affordable housing as a threat rather than as housing that could help local residents or workers, let alone help the larger city or region.

Many goods come via truck, few want to encounter those trucks on a suburban road

Trucking is essential to the American economy. However, it is not desirable to encounter many trucks on local roads. Here is how one Chicago area county wants to address the issue:

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“The key is really getting trucks onto the interstate as safely and efficiently as possible,” said Patricia Mangano, senior transportation planner with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.

As the county grows and the region continues to be an important national transportation hub, the study recommends strategies to minimize the negative impact of freight traffic to residents and the environment…

The report says that high volumes of truck traffic have led to safety and congestion concerns, especially in sensitive areas such as historic districts, neighborhoods or environmentally protected areas. The study notes western Will County’s natural and cultural assets, such as Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery and the Kankakee River, could be negatively affected by new development and traffic…

“We are the proverbial crossroads of America,” he said, noting residents just want to ensure they can get from work to home to their children’s activities without being caught in traffic.

In recent decades, Will County has become home to an increasing number of warehouses and intermodal facilities. This could be viewed as a positive for economic activity and growth which then leads to more tax revenues, jobs, and prestige.

Yet, certain industries do not necessarily mesh well with the suburban single-family home ideal. Trucks are related to a number of concerns residents have about all sorts of land uses: noise, traffic, lights, threats to the residential ideal they hope for.

I see the point of routing truck traffic along particular roads. This also has the effect of altering those roads. I can think of several major thoroughfares near here that are full of truck traffic during the day. Driving on these roads can be quite different than driving on other main roads. And because the way many suburban communities are laid out, there are often not good alternative routes since traffic in general is funneled from smaller residential streets to larger volume roads.

An impractical suggestion that might please suburban residents: have truck only roads that lead from industrial and commercial properties straight to highways. In many locations, this might work as warehouses and distribution centers are clustered together as are big box stores and shopping malls. On suburban roads without big trucks, suburbanites might occasionally find the opportunity to drive like people do in car commercials: on the open road.

Local residents oppose a casino at three proposed Chicago sites

As Chicago leaders consider where a new casino in the city might be located, local residents expressed their concerns:

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Earlier this month, the city held town hall meetings for each of the three proposals and got an earful from neighbors opposed to a casino being built close to their homes. Their overwhelming message: Not in my backyard.

“This casino does not belong in a neighborhood,” said Antonio Romanucci, a resident of River North, where the Bally’s casino would be built, if approved. “You are putting a square peg into a round hole.”

Others at the Bally’s meeting raised concerns about traffic, crime and noise from concerts…

And while The 78 is marketed as an entirely new neighborhood, residents from the South Loop, Chinatown and Pilsen spoke in opposition to including a casino in the already approved megadevelopment.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Don’t blow it on a casino,” said an 11-year-old named Sean, who spoke at the town hall for the Rivers 78 proposal. “A casino does not make a neighborhood. Things that attract families are what make a neighborhood.”

Last week, Lightfoot responded to the community blowback saying there is always “a level of NIMBYism” with large development projects.

Generally, communities and cities tend to like developments that will generate significant revenues. People spend money at casinos and using the property to generate revenues is preferable to having vacant properties or ones with limited revenues.

However, a casino is not a typical land use. They are relatively unusual. They can attract a lot of visitors. They can be viewed as encouraging vice and unsavory activity.

So, the mayor’s claims that this is just NIMBYism might not work with a more unusual land use like this. Sure, residents tend to complain about changes to traffic, lights, noise, and property values with a new nearby development, but does anyone want to live next to a casino?

Watching the decision-making process on this one might just make a fascinating case study for urban scholars for years to come.

The multiple NIMBYs in the way of “electrify everything”

A new book suggests a climate change answer is “electrify everything” but the author describes some NIMBY roadblocks to this idea:

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Griffith: There is no easy answer. There are different NIMBYs at play. There are “No wind turbines off my coastline!” NIMBYs. There are “No gas line running through my backyard!” NIMBYs. There are “I don’t like the look of solar cells!” NIMBYs. For those complaining about the view, I would remind them that a huge amount of land is already taken up by our energy-transmission systems. Millions of miles of dedicated coal rail lines and natural-gas pipelines are already strewn across the landscape. They only seem invisible because they’ve blended in over the past century.

Thompson: Okay, if there’s no easy answer, what’s the hard answer?

Griffith: I’m going to give you an answer that I’ve only been thinking about for a few weeks. I think the argument will be won on local economics. If you take a suburb with a thousand homes in it, those families might spend $3.5 million a year on gasoline. When those families fill their car with gas, the money immediately leaves the community and goes to Texas or Saudi Arabia. But if the cars are run on electricity that comes from their own rooftops and houses, then no money is leaving the community. You can take that $3.5 million and build new classrooms. That’s really exciting to me…

Griffith: Electricity literally is the network that connects every home. You are connected to everybody through this thing in your community. And it really might be the opportunity for community renewal that America needs. It might be the thing that binds us back together again. Because it saves us money and has a damn good chance of being bipartisan.

This does seem to be the trick: how to convince the majority of Americans that green energy benefits their daily lives. And if they actually gain money for their own households or for goods they want in their community, this would help. If individual homeowners do not want to take more responsibility for generating electricity (solar panels on the roof), it could devolve into arguing which less fortunate suburb should be home to the solar panels, wind turbines, etc.

Thinking bigger, what if green energy enables suburban life to continue, as opposed to a vision where people need to live in denser concentrations in order to use less energy? I wonder about this externality of more electric vehicles: if pollution via driving and the need for gas are reduced, can sprawl even expand?

Both wanting to be and limit the effects of being the next popular city

The case of Spokane, Washington highlights how communities want to grow and be popular but they do not necessarily want what comes with the growth:

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Whether it’s Boise, Idaho, or Reno, Nevada, or Portland, Oregon, or Austin, Texas, the American housing market is caught in a vicious cycle of broken expectations that operates like a food chain: The sharks flee New York and Los Angeles and gobble up the housing in Austin and Portland, whose priced-out homebuyers swim to the cheaper feeding grounds of places like Spokane. The cycle brings bitterness and “Don’t Move Here” bumper stickers — and in Spokane it has been supercharged during the pandemic and companies’ shift to remote work.

No matter how many times it happens, no matter how many cities and states try to blunt it with recommendations to build more housing and provide subsidies for those who can’t afford the new stuff, no matter how many zoning battles are fought or homeless camps lamented, no next city, as of yet, seems better prepared than the last one was…

All of this happened fairly recently. In the years after the Great Recession, when homebuilders were in bankruptcy or hibernation, migration to the Spokane area plunged. That pattern shifted in 2014 when, as if a switch had been flipped, waves of migrants started arriving as already high-cost cities like Seattle and San Francisco saw their housing markets go into a tech-fueled frenzy…

Five years ago, a little over half the homes in the Spokane area sold for less than $200,000, and about 70% of its employed population could afford to buy a home, according to a recent report commissioned by the Spokane Association of Realtors. Now fewer than 5% of homes — a few dozen a month — sell for less than $200,000, and less than 15% of the area’s employed population can afford a home. A recent survey by Redfin, the real estate brokerage, showed that homebuyers moving to Spokane in 2021 had a budget 23% higher than what locals had…

Last year, Woodward declared a housing emergency, and her administration has put in place initiatives that mirror those of housing-troubled cities on the West Coast. The city has built new shelters, is encouraging developers to repurpose commercial buildings into apartments, is making it easier for residents to build backyard units, and is rezoning the city to allow duplexes and other multiunit buildings in single-family neighborhoods.

The primary focus here is on housing and the increase in prices. From what is described above, a good number of long-time residents now struggle to find decent housing. This is indeed a problem to consider.

I would guess there are other changes as well: increased business activity, more traffic, newcomers operating in local civic organizations and institutions. Many of these changes are assumed to be good in most communities: growth means status, activity, and increased tax revenues. Sure, there are some externalities – sprawl and what comes with it, changes to how things have been – but these are often viewed as growing pains. Growth is good.

The implication in this story is that this could happen to any community: people from the outside discover an undiscovered location and their moves drive up housing costs. Yet, I wonder how true this is. Will people in overheated housing markets really go anywhere or only to certain locations? Spokane is within a particular region plus has its own features and its own history. Would people from the coasts end up in Youngstown, Ohio or Fargo, North Dakota, Jackson, Mississippi, or Detroit, Michigan where there is plenty of cheaper housing and distinct local character? The housing game may not just be an endless one where those with resources are always searching out the next cheaper market; there are limits to where people go and invest their resources.

Targeted incentive programs – described here – might help with this issue as communities seek out particular kinds of residents they would like. If those programs turned into floods of people, how many would really want to turn that down?

Itasca the second suburb to reject an addiction treatment facility – where might it end up?

Last night, leaders of the suburb of Itasca unanimously voted against a proposal to convert a hotel to an addiction treatment facility:

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After more than 35 public hearings devoted to the Haymarket project, the decision seemed almost anticlimactic. It took barely 15 minutes for board members to cast their vote. Haymarket President and CEO Dan Lustig said he wasn’t surprised by the board’s verdict.

Only Pruyn and Trustee Ellen Leahy explained their opposition, framing the decision in mostly fiscal terms. Both agreed with opponents that the scale of the proposed treatment center was too much for a town of less than 10,000 people to absorb. “A facility this large belongs at the county seat or affiliated with a hospital where appropriate emergency medical services can be provided,” Leahy said.

However, the same organization already tried to open the facility in the county seat:

From nearly the start, Haymarket faced an uphill battle in its second attempt at offering treatment services within DuPage to help combat the scourge of opioid addiction. The county last year reported 112 opioid overdoses, a record high.

Almost four years ago, Haymarket, a Chicago-based nonprofit provider, was denied a bid to start a 16-bed satellite program in Wheaton.

Neither of these decisions are unusual in that suburbs often prefer land uses that they feel will enhance the single-family home character of the community. Other land uses, whether industrial and commercial properties or religious buildings or less desirable properties, need to be sufficiently far from homeowners.

While such decisions may be common, the larger effect is problematic. What DuPage County community would permit this land use? When there is a need to address opioid use, where could struggling local residents and families turn?

If each suburb follows in a similar logic, this contributes to uneven development patterns. Communities with resources and organized political movements can regularly keep less desirable land uses away from them. Other communities may not be able to do the same thing or feel like they have to take advantage of any opportunity that comes their way.

Where will this treatment facility end up? At this point, any effort to locate in DuPage County may be doomed as local residents have developed multiple successful lines of argument against the facility.

(See earlier posts on this saga including suburban opposition to drug treatment facilities and a march against the facility in Itasca.)

What can happen when residents move to be near a golf course and then the golf course shuts down and becomes overgrown

The icing on the cake may be the “spite fence” but the broader story is an interesting one to consider: residents want to be near a golf course but then the golf course is no more and becomes a problem.

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The Villages at West Neck was also Foster’s baby. He developed the community of 934 homes for ages 55 and older to complement the golf course. Its serene streets are lined with neatly manicured lawns and ranch houses…

About six months after the golf course closed, in the spring of 2020, W.C. Capital bought it in foreclosure. The company was organized in New Mexico, but it’s unknown who owns it. The sole member is a citizen of Florida, according to Attorney John McIntyre of Norfolk, the company’s registered agent. McIntyre declined to identify the owner.In the beginning, W.C. Capital sporadically mowed the golf course grounds, but it wasn’t as frequent as when the golf course was operating, Luckman said…

Residents rallied to try to save the golf course and formed an advisory committee. They reached out to a local, prominent developer to see if he would consider buying it. They tossed around the idea of the homeowners association stepping up, Luckman said. It would require millions of dollars just to restore it, let alone buy it.

Over the summer, the City of Virginia Beach sued W.C. Capital for not maintaining the golf course property. A bench trial is scheduled for April 2022, according to Deputy City Attorney Christopher Boynton.

In July, W.C. Capital met with Virginia Beach’s planning staff to propose developing senior living apartments on the golf course land. It would require a change in zoning; the land is zoned for preservation. At the urging of the staff, the company has held meetings with residents to garner feedback.

This is a classic issue that residents might face: they move to a neighborhood or community and then that same place changes. Here, a golf course is a sizable feature as it offers green space, relatively undeveloped land, higher property values, and opportunities to play golf for those interested. Filling the space left by a golf course is not necessarily easy for communities.

To some degree, all places change over time. People move in and out, outside conditions change, leaders make decisions. Few places can remain frozen in time.

And regardless of the change, it can be a difficult process for the property in transition and neighbors. The place is changing, developing a new character. Some people will leave in response, some will stay, others will fight the changes.

If indeed the property ends up becoming senior living apartments, in a decade or two the golf course may be a distant memory. The neighbors will move on. The new residents may only hear word of the former land use. The community will go on. But, the memories and experiences of that golf course may still linger among residents and the community even if its physical forms are long gone.

Communities of 64 square foot tiny houses to combat homelessness

Several tiny house communities have sprung up in Los Angeles to provide housing. One observer suggests they have been successful thus far:

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Each tiny house is 64 square feet and comes with heat, air conditioning and built-in beds. Each resident is someone who was once a member of the unhoused community. Each village — and there are six in Los Angeles neighborhoods — is designed to help residents take a first step out of homelessness by giving them a home to live in for three to six months…

Over two months, I documented the scene at the Chandler village and at the Alexandria Park site in North Hollywood, with its palette of prefabricated homes painted in vivid colors to keep the location from having a sterile, institutionalized feeling. I observed a calming sense of order, an atmosphere of support and trust between the staff and residents…

All six villages are operated by the nonprofit Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission, which helps clients get back on their feet as they seek permanent housing. Village support includes a staff on call 24/7 and caseworkers to help with such basics as job applications or securing benefits. Hot meals are provided and residents have access to a communal laundry, showers and restrooms…

Yet every day, I saw the immeasurable worth of these tiny villages in helping to create something that’s often missing from stories about the unhoused: a narrative of positive progress.

This is the first report I have seen of tiny house communities for the unhoused in action. At least a few cities have considered this (see earlier posts here, here, and here). Such arrangements offer flexibility or opportunities that other kinds of housing could not. And, tiny houses still have a cool factor.

That said, how far can this go? As the piece notes, the costs were higher than anticipated. More communities needed. Presumably, the upfront money of tiny house communities would pay off down the road in improved lives and fewer services. Or, where exactly can such communities be located to avoid the NIMBYism of nearby residents yet still be decent places to live? Finally, what comes after tiny house community living, both for the current residents and the community?

One additional thought: will there eventually more tiny house communities like these for people who need housing or cheaper housing or will there be more tiny house communities for those with plenty of resources who want to live different kinds of lives? Both might be desirable and they would not necessarily be treated the same by those around them.

A denser suburbia in California and the rest of the United States

The single-family home is the most important feature of American suburbs. What happens when conditions change and pressures lead to more multifamily housing units and denser housing in suburbia? From California:

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In June, as Ms. Coats told me about the house and the neighborhood from the doorstep of her bungalow, she gazed toward a fresh foundation that had entombed the back half of Lot 118 in concrete. Over the next few weeks, a construction crew erected a two-story building that filled in a green rectangle from the Clairemont Villas brochure. A few feet away, the original four-bedroom house was loudly gut-renovated into a pair of apartments.

When the workers head to their next job this month, they will leave what amounts to a triplex rental complex on the type of lot that in the seven decades since Ms. Coats’s family moved in had been reserved for single-family houses. It’s part of a push across California and the nation to encourage density in suburban neighborhoods by allowing people to subdivide single-family houses and build new units in their backyards…

In the vast zone between those poles lie existing single-family neighborhoods like Clairemont, which account for most of the urban landscape yet remain conspicuously untouched. The omission is the product of a political bargain that says sprawl can sprawl and downtowns can rise but single-family neighborhoods are sealed off from growth by the cudgel of zoning rules that dictate what can be built where. The deal is almost never stated so plainly, but it is the foundation of local politics in virtually every U.S. city and cuts to the core of the country’s deepest class and racial conflicts…

“It doesn’t fit.” “It’s adding people.” “We don’t want that here.” “There’s other places for that.” “We just want to keep our neighborhood like it is.” “They want to push us out and tear our houses down.” “Parking.” “Parking.” “Parking.”

Several quick thoughts on these changes in many suburban communities:

  1. Where exactly this density will happen will be fascinating to watch. Will it happen in wealthier suburban communities or will they be able to keep it at bay? Inner-ring suburbs are often already more familiar with such density but this is less common in suburbs further from the big city.
  2. The housing pressure is acute in California but is not so clear or as well publicized in many other locations. If this works in California, where else does it show up?
  3. The NIMBY concerns cited above will be vocally shared again and again. The appeal for many single-family home owners is the space between neighbors, relatively lots of room for parking, and not feeling like the neighborhood is crowded.
  4. How much are #1-3 above linked to another long-term pattern in suburbia: race and exclusion? Homeowners will say it is about protecting their properties – particularly their property values, which single-family home zoning is intended to do – but it is also about who is able to live in the neighborhood and community.
  5. The addition of units and people to existing single-family home neighborhoods is a different approach to denser suburbia than creating larger-scale “surban” projects that some would find desirable near suburban downtowns or in large-scale redevelopment.