When NIMBY is a good thing

The NIMBY acronym, meaning “not in my backyard,” is a scornful term–and rightly so–usually hurled against those who oppose a development that they believe would lower their property values. Such projects typically are intended to benefit an underserved population, such as low-income housing or a half-way house, and typically are greeted with false expressions of sympathy and a dozen reasons why–although of course this is a wonderful idea–this just isn’t the right place for it. Please! Not here. Not in my backyard.

It’s therefore tempting to give in to a fleeting sense of schadenfreude when the shoe is on the other foot: when the proposed development would serve those who already have a lot, not those who have little. When a developer rolls into a quiet rural community and announces he’s going to spend a few million dollars to build a vacation playground for RVers, complete with a water park, boat docks, sports courts and game rooms, a restaurant, amphitheater, fitness and yoga center, and whatever else may strike his fancy. When the locals are forced to contemplate the prospect of hundreds of people invading their peaceful corner of the world every week, shakily driving their oversized homes-on-wheels along narrow country lanes.

But it will be good for the community, the developer will bray. Think of all the new business this will bring to the area! The new job opportunities! The boost in local tax revenues!

Somehow the math never quite works out that way, but by the time the locals figure that out it’s too late. As one resort area after another has already demonstrated, from one end of the country to the other, all that new development pushes real estate costs so high that the people filling those new but low-paying jobs can no longer afford to live in the area. The increased spending by all those new visitors is largely captured by the development itself, with only a fraction trickling into the wider community. And in most cases the tax base doesn’t grow enough to pay for the increased demand on police, fire and other services, because transients living in houses-on-wheels don’t pay nearly as much in taxes as people in sticks-and-bricks homes, even as they have almost as many needs.

But developers hoping to cash in on the pandemic-catalyzed RVing boom are looking to build new campgrounds just about everywhere–and because it makes more economic sense to build a bigger campground rather than a smaller one, those proposals tend to be big. Big enough to inject almost as many visitors into a local community as there are local residents–and those local residents, once they figure out what’s in the works, overwhelmingly don’t like it one bit. From a proposed RV park of 300+ sites at the Mashantucket-Pequot casino in Connecticut, to a similarly sized RV park proposed for Lake Anna in Virginia, to the mega-park branded as the Kentucky Bluegrass Experience Resort, grassroots opponents have convinced their local representatives to block or severely modify such unwanted intrusions into their communities.

The developers, no surprise, are fighting back on several fronts–and even are resorting to disdainful accusations of NIMBYism against their opponents. That’s flipping the term on its head, of course, which is amusing and unsustainable. Less amusing, on the other hand, is a North Carolina state politician’s promise to enact legislation that would allow the state to overrule local land-use decisions–not on behalf of low income housing or half-way houses, but to repel attempts to control the development of still more RV parks in an area that is already bursting with them.

In circumstances like these, NIMBY may be the most appropriate response.

Next post: the threat to Maggie Valley

Author: Andy Zipser

A former newspaper reporter who worked at a variety of newspapers, from small community weeklies to The Wall Street Journal, I finished my "normal" work life as the editor of The Guild Reporter, official publication of the union representing newspaper workers. On retiring, I and my wife bought a campground in the Shenandoah Valley and--with the help of our two daughters and their husbands--operated it for eight years, first as a KOA franchisee and then as an independent family-owned RV park. We sold the campground in May, 2021, and live in Staunton, Virginia, a short walk from our grandsons' home.

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