Monday, February 25, 2013


NIMBY is an acronym for the phrase "Not In My Back Yard." It's often used to describe a selfish attitude of neighborhoods that oppose some development or other simply because of its location -- that is, too close to them. There is a recognition of the need for the unpopular development, but also an insistence that someone else pay the price of living next to it. Landfills are a classic NIMBY target.

NIABY is an acronym for the phrase "Not In Anybody's Back Yard." It's a more universal stand than NIMBY, opposing some development or other as unwise no matter where it is located. NIABY would like to see the development not just moved out of one's own neighborhood, but canceled altogether. Drug houses are a classic NIABY target.

I can create scenarios where a NIMBY attitude can be right and other scenarios where it can be wrong. Same for a NIABY attitude. In this blog post, I resist the urge to issue blanket judgments. What I want to do is review various developments in Richardson and identify elements of NIMBY and NIABY thinking that they evoke. After the jump.

Lookout Trash Transfer Station: This is a classic NIMBY target. The neighbors admit a need for trash collection. They just don't want it near them. Put it in Plano or Allen or anywhere else. If the neighbors can't get rid of it, they want to impose as many restrictions on it as they can. It's hard for them to get everything they want, because a win for them inevitably means a loss for some other neighborhood on the same NIMBY grounds. These situations almost always end in bitterness.

Apartments: Some people oppose apartments in general (NIABY), but when pressed will settle for apartment construction in, say, Dallas or Garland or elsewhere, just not in Richardson. So it reverts to a NIMBY argument, where "my back yard" is defined to encompass all of Richardson. Other people are not opposed to apartment construction in Richardson, but do oppose particular proposals, stemming either from an objection to density or quality or from a desire to see more mixed-use development. This is a little bit NIMBY and a little bit a positive desire for a particular kind of apartment development.

Gas stations: I've opposed the proposals for gas stations at the entrance to Brick Row and in downtown Richardson west of Central, but accepted gas station development on Renner Rd in Richardson's panhandle. I recognize the need for gas stations, just not in some locations. So, my attitude is not NIABY, but is it NIMBY? Only if all zoning ordinances are examples of NIMBY thinking. (Are they?) Last week, the Richardson city council denied a request to build an automobile repair shop at the corner of Belt Line Rd and Coit Rd. The prevailing opinion seemed to be that this was a quality project, just in the wrong location. I don't consider that to be NIMBY thinking, as long as the council allows for other locations where such a development would be welcomed by the neighbors, by the city at large, and by the council.

Restaurants: The city bought the old Continental Inn, tore it down, and appears on a path of assembling enough adjacent properties to sell the whole site to a developer who wants to put up a row of restaurants. Neighbors seem generally opposed, disappointed that so soon after a new plan for the West Spring Valley Corridor was agreed to, Richardson is proposing an outdated concept for the catalyst project. A row of standalone restaurants, islands surrounded by a sea of parking, is more suburban sprawl, not the more urban concept the Corridor plan calls for. This is not NIMBY. Neighbors don't mind redevelopment at the location. This is NIABY. More suburban sprawl is not right for anywhere.

Hookah bars and karaoke bars: A few months ago, the city council felt a need to address the growing number of hookah bars in Richardson. Opposition was based on a combination of location (downtown Richardson) and use (tobacco? water pipes? drugs???). Then, the council found themselves faced with a request for a karaoke bar at Campbell Rd and Coit Rd. Neighbors were sure of one thing. They didn't want a karaoke bar nearby. Opposition was based on a combination of location (nearby residential neighborhoods) and use (alcohol, noise). Council members seemed to agree, but ultimately approved the karaoke bar, with some restrictions. Hookah and karaoke -- NIMBY or NIABY? Maybe a little of both.

Sexually-oriented businesses: A few years ago, the city council reviewed its zoning ordinances after a sexually-oriented business opened in Richardson. The prevailing desire was to zone such businesses out of Richardson altogether, with no care if every city did the exact same thing. That's a classic NIABY attitude. Except the courts don't allow cities to do that. Richardson was reduced to creating NIMBY zoning that forced sexually-oriented businesses into locations that kept them far away from homes, schools, parks, almost anything the city could include without zoning them out of business altogether.

Is the distinction between NIMBY and NIABY a useful one? To the extent that it prompts one to examine the source of one's opposition to some development or other, then it is useful. NIMBY is generally to be leery of, but not to the extent of ruling out all zoning altogether. NIABY can be principled, as long as everyone agrees on what is being banned, which is rarely the case. If nothing else, the exercise of NIMBY vs NIABY reveals that land use issues are not always as black and white as I sometimes think. If it was half as useful to you to read as it was to me to write about, so much the better.