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Lyons: Myopic NIMBYism wants to strangle your town

Published: Saturday, July 26, 2014 11:23 p.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, July 26, 2014 11:24 p.m. CDT

More than two decades of local journalism, including countless hours at zoning board meetings, have taught me a simple lesson: No one wants anything built near his home. Ever.

I’ve seen people complain about parks, churches, schools. You name it. Someone on the block, around the corner, down the street would rather live next to a crater. My house will be worth $11 if you put a splash pad there, etc.

This is how America works. Complaining about it is human nature. Things get built anyway. If you want complete control over property, buy it. Or you can threaten elected local board members that you won’t elect them again. By the time the shouting stops, that threat sounds like the sweet promise of Everlasting Peace.

That doesn’t mean people don’t have a right to complain or shouldn’t complain. There are, of course, important considerations when someone wants to put a $450 million power plant in a small town, or any town. There are considerations, when someone wants to put up an apartment complex, although not nearly as many.

But to be quite honest, people’s beliefs that (insert town name here) is “too good” for a low-income apartment complex is off-putting on many levels. The main reason being because no town is “too good” for anyone because of a person’s tax bracket.

There are exceptions in the North Shore and places like it, but this isn’t Kenilworth. Let Kenilworth worry about its own problems. Would love to see a #Kenilworthproblems hashtag with cautionary tales about au pair work visas and discussions over whether live charity auctions should have instant replay.

People have a right to question or oppose the 60-unit, low-income Pedcor housing project in Cary, which the village board has now allowed to go forward in two separate votes.

There can be intelligent disagreements about location, traffic, design, density, the developer, etc. But the rationale of shunning those who earn lower wages from a town is, frankly, offensive. It’s beneath the diginity of any town that ironically claims to be “too good.” And if I raised kids there, I’d be embarrassed at what adults are teaching them.

Whenever I hear it, I flash back to the mid-1990s when I was a young reporter covering zoning board meetings in Crystal Lake, where a mixed-use residential development was shouted down for valid and invalid reasons – one of which was that residents didn’t want to be subjected to the kind of scum who had to live in a $900- to $1,000-per-month apartment.

Scraping by in my mid-20s, I aspired to be that kind of scum. I couldn’t afford that rent without regularly selling blood plasma. People were willing to stand close enough to me to shout quotes for the newspaper, they just didn’t want me parking my Chevrolet Cavalier overnight a few blocks from their walkway concrete geese dressed in tacky outfits.

I found a place I could afford, worked hard, even took a second job for awhile. Flash forward 20 years, and I live in a house paying more in property taxes than many less than others, helping coach youth sports, serving on nonprofit boards and raising a family. Thankfully, concrete geese are long out of vogue.

Personality and charm deficiency aside, I’m a regular citizen by most definitions.

And unless somebody left you a trust fund, that’s the way it shakes out for most people in the suburbs. The Circle of Life. The Chain Restaurant Food Chain. The Kubler Ross Stages of Taxpayer Grief. Whatever you want to call it.

Nobody gets hatched into a $400K brick house full of Pottery Barn catalogs. You weren’t born knowing what a cocktail muddler was or with the inherited suburban wisdom of the word for the knob that tops a patio umbrella.

And the funny economic part of it is that unless towns can attract young people, who can’t afford a $230,000 home, many of those communities will shrivel up and die. Those tax bills we complain about will only get worse because there’s no new growth.

If you think an apartment complex down the road is bad, try five or six forcelosed homes on either side of you.

Employers won’t come here if their workers can’t afford a place to live. Any major employer has to hire some people at entry-level salaries. Not only that, it’s difficult for existing companies to expand.

Hopefully, some of those young workers will stay and become contributors to their communites as they advance in their careers.

Worse, someday they’ll write your Sunday newspaper column.

Or maybe they’ll move somewhere less closed-minded because they’re “too good” for a town full of people who don’t value anything beyond their own front lawns.

• Kevin Lyons is news editor of the Northwest Herald. Reach him at 815-526-4505 or email him at kelyons@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinLyonsNWH.

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