NIMBY in Normal, Illinois

 

Not In My Backyard
Carley Redman

NIMBY, according to Freedictionary.com, is an acronym for Not in My Backyard, or less frequently used, Not In My Blue Yonder.  This term describes the opposition of residents that are near to a location of something unfavorable, or undesirable by the community.  NIMBYism usually takes into effect when a developer presents a new addition to their community.  The neighbors involved with NIMBY typically present their case in court, or to their local representatives.

In the past few decades there have been several cases of NIMBYisms in Bloomington-Normal, mostly dealing with development in newer neighborhoods or near campus.  One in particular, deals with Habitat for Humanity building new homes along Vernon Avenue.  For years, Vernon Ave. has been the “unofficial” road that has separated residential areas from student housing.  Before Habitat stepped in, several lots along Vernon Ave. that had previously been large single family homes were rented out to non-related students.  These homes were grandfathered in because they were being used for legal non-conforming use.  Neighbors complained that with students living there they would be up late, loud and disruptive, and not take care of the yards.  Then, several years ago the houses caught fire and burned down.  The town of Normal purchased the land and donated it to Habitat.

Currently, there are six Habitat homes that sit along Vernon near the railroad tracks.  Before these were built, neighbors complained that because they were going to be Habitat homes, they would not attractively fit their historic neighborhood.  Originally, seven houses were supposed to be built, but because of NIMBY, they reduced the amount to six.  Another agreement was that the houses would be two stories high instead of one, and have a more attractive exterior, with a front porch and parking deck in the back, giving the front yard a cleaner look.  Today, six Habitat houses sit on those lots on Vernon Avenue, and driving past you would never know they were Habitat homes.

Another case in 2000 when NIMBY stepped in was titled, “Eagle’s Landing.”  This property is located off of Raab Road near Airport Road.  Neighbors stepped in when a developer wanted to change his B-1 (business) property into an R-3A (multiple family housing) property.  The neighbors argued that when they moved in, their realtor told them the B-1 property was to be built for doctor’s offices, and other upscale businesses.  However, any B-1 property can sell lots to tattoo parlors, tanning salons, restaurants or any other type of business willing to move in.  The neighbors complained that if this lot were to be turned into an R-3A multiple families that move in will lower their property value and neighborhood value.  This case was taken to court, and eventually the developer pulled out of the agreement to change his lot.  The lot still sits empty, waiting to be developed.  What they did not realize, was that the people actually arguing against this, live in an R-3A neighborhood.  This issue is still not resolved.

Several years ago, NIMBY stepped in again when local developers bought Savannah Green, property previously owned by Illinois State University.  When developers bought this land, they bought it for cheap, which means they were able to resell for a low cost.  Older neighbors who still lived in the neighborhood argued that because the land was being sold for less, it would turn into a neighborhood similar to section eight housing, which in turn would lower their property value.  In this case, NIMBY lost, and the houses were still sold at a low rate.  Now the only problems in this neighborhood are not enough parking spaces.

One of the more recent events that NIMBY has taken action in is the current lot that University Cinemas sits on.  Because of low sales the cinemas closed and were bought out by a local developer.  This developer wants to make the property into a large student apartment building, housing 357 students at a time.  The downfall to having this many students is that the lot with this new establishment will only be able to have up to 198 parking spots.  Neighbors have had several complaints to this proposal.  Some of those being that with students living there they will disrupt the neighborhood by staying up late and coming in late, noise disruptions, and that students cars will take over the streets with not enough parking on the lot.  Another problem neighbors have is that the building will be less than ten feet from the main road that runs north through Normal and the lot is right along the railroad tracks.  If students come home late and intoxicated, the neighbors fear the students will stumble onto the road, or tracks, and get hit.  So not only are they worried about the effects the building will have on their neighborhood, but also the student’s safety.  This issue is still unresolved, but has been put down till further notice.

An issue that is still being resolved in Normal is the development of a gravel pit near a newly established neighborhood.  The McLean County Board’s Land Use and Development Committee suggests that “gravel pits should be at least 1,000 feet from houses and school and that gravel loading areas be at least 2,000 feet from developments.”  The proposed gravel pit would be less than that from a developed neighborhood and even closer to the front door of Fox Creek Elementary School.  NIMBY stepped in with full force in this issue.  Not only is it a safety hazard, but noise and constant movement is disruptive.  The major issue here is the safety.  When the gravel is being broken up, pieces and fumes can be inhaled by the elementary students causing health problems that could be incurable.  This case is still unresolved, but the neighborhood is not willing to back down.  I see NIMBY coming out on top for this one as well.

As far as pros and cons go for NIMBY, I feel there are several of both.  First, the pros being that with the gravel pit there are several safety issues involved.  It was their job to bring those up to the board.  Another pro is that because NIMBY is the opinions of several different people, several different views are being taken into account.  Nearly every issue that could be considered will.  I feel that the effect of NIMBY also helps to keep the people more involved rather than the city council or even developers taking over the town of Normal.  This way, it still stays somewhat of a democracy.

Some cons of NIMBY could be that people are arguing for the wrong reasons.  Putting in multiple family housing is not always going to lower property value, especially when you already live in a multiple family housing area.  I feel that the most significant con to NIMBY is the fight for keeping their neighborhood clean, or upscale.  This is when the argument walks the line of being discriminating or not.

In all, yes I would recommend NIMBY always voicing their opinions.  After all, it is their neighborhood that they live in, and if they do not want a gravel pit just a few hundred feet from their front door, then I feel it is necessary to voice their concerns.  Although there are always pros and cons to an issue, I feel that overall NIMBY is a good thing, and should still be as active as they have been in the past. 

I feel that there really are no alternative solutions other than NIMBY.  It provides neighborhoods to voice their concerns in court, on record.  This way it is keeping them out of officials’ offices and in a more professional and organized way. 

Works Cited

 

Davison, M. (2009, September 9). Not in My Backyard.

Ford, M. A. (2009, August 20). Ideas clash on gravel pit zoning. The Pantagraph , pp. 2-3.

The Free Dictionary. (2009). Retrieved September 10, 2009, from NIMBY: http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Nimbyism