Who Pays for NIMBYism?

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Ryan Briggs has a thoughtful take on the demise of the Old City Civic Association that’s worth your time, but I am less disturbed about the message this sends other civic groups:

The death of one of the city’s preeminent civic groups is troubling. Despite a reputation for excessive NIMBYism, the group cast itself as a staunch defender of a neighborhood many members and some residents view as besieged by club and bar operators. As chronicled in the City Paper cover story, “The Trouble with Old City”, the group had pushed for a zoning overlay that effectively banned restaurants without OCCA’s stamp of approval as a means of curtailing the proliferation of liquor licenses. The move made life miserable for at least one well-known and responsible bar owner in the story […]

The functions previously performed by OCCA will be absorbed by the Old City District, a well-regarded economic development corporation likely more than capable of handling the task. While some may welcome what will likely a more pro-development attitude on the part of the District, it’s hard to argue that residents’ desires will be better served by the arrangement. And, more disturbingly for civics across the city, what precedent has been set if such a prolific and seemingly advantaged civic association was successfully litigated to death by a developer?

Here’s how I see the issue. Blocking new development has a cost. Stringing out the approval process costs developers money, which then gets passed along to future tenants. When new housing can’t come on the market in a timely manner that’s a cost to renters, and so on.

I think that is supremely unfair. The regulatory costs and opportunity costs of blocking new development should be paid directly by the people trying to block construction or new businesses. Don’t want new housing units in the neighborhood? Buy the land. Don’t want new bars? Pay the storefront owners what they would’ve gotten in rent.

I don’t know if the insurance premiums OCCA was having to pay toward the end were exactly equivalent to the regulatory and opportunity costs they were imposing on would-be tenants, renters and developers, but the fact is that their NIMBY utopia certainly cost more than they had been paying for it, and it’s totally appropriate to expect OCCA to bear the full burden of the regulatory costs they were imposing on others.

I hope the message this sends to other litigious neighborhood groups is to let most projects happen without a fight. RCOs who constructively participate in the inclusive process envisioned by the new zoning code will do just fine. Groups that get greedy and try to shut down too many projects are going to end up neutered like OCCA.

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