The NIMBYist surcharge: Part 1, I’m going up the country, baby

October 19, 2011 | Affordability, Density, Development, Housing, New York, NIMBY, US News, Woodstock, Zoning

By: David A. Smith


If you can’t beat it, bankrupt it? 


If you smile at me, I will understand

Because that is something everybody everywhere does in the same language

– Crosby Still & Nash, Wooden Ships


That seems to be the strategy of a diverse coalition of affordable housing opponents, united only in their agreement that there’s something, anything, wrong with the proposed Woodstock Commons property, either its future existence or the process by which it has been approved.


Crosby, Stills, and Nash at Woodstock


The apparent hypocrisy of the opponents of affordable housing becomes even more bitterly ironic when we realize that Woodstock is so prized as a destination solely because it hosted the largest zoning and hygiene violation in modern American history, and is rightly celebrated for that tolerance.


Are there any illegal substances in this crowd?


Now the children and grandchildren of those who benefited from the locals’ tolerance are themselves the loudest voices of intolerance and exclusion.


As you read this post, amplifying a September 13, 2011 New York Times story and supplemented by two articles from the Woodstock Daily Freeman  (March 5, 2010), and Daily Freeman (April 6, 2011):


In Woodstock, Values Collide Over Housing


A protracted battle over a 53-unit affordable housing project is dividing this still-crunchy town where mellow ’60s vibes and liberal politics –


Peace, love and exclusionary zoning man!


As I’ve previously posted, restrictive zoning tends to accompany liberal politics, and the more you restrict development, the more your cost of living rises.


– coexist uneasily with real estate prices increasingly out of the reach of the humbler classes.


So if you insist on tightly controlled zoning, then it is your bounden duty to create affordable housing.  Or is it?


“It’s like if you can’t afford to live in Aspen, you don’t go to Aspen,” said Iris York, who lives near the project site. “You live where you can afford to live and where the jobs are. Go to Aspen and say, ‘What are you doing to make this affordable?’ — and they’ll laugh at you.”


Iris York, a project opponent, on the perimeter of the complex site, would prefer to spend money upgrading existing substandard housing.
Photo: Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times.


Actually, Ms. York, in addition to being close-minded, you are astonishingly misinformed.  Aspen is one of the towns where workforce housing first emerged as a public-policy priority.


When workers finally began clearing land for the Woodstock Commons project in July, it looked as if the uncomfortable dispute might finally be ending.


Sounds like a horror movie, doesn’t it?  Actually, the story has some similar elements, such as the indestructability of the opposition:


I don’t like living near the disabled


I’m concerned about the green space


Instead, new issues kept popping up: the plight of black bears and endangered Indiana bats threatened by the construction; a botched permitting process; uncertainty about water service.


Black bears are wonderful creatures, but they’re hardy scavengers (and making a comeback in many suburbs).


Sorry, a tree house is not a legal dwelling


And as for Indiana bats, why can’t they go back to Indiana where they belong?


No, you can’t build affordable housing, we were here first


In some ways what is playing out in this Ulster County town is a more colorful microcosm of affordable housing controversies elsewhere.


The micro always prefigures the macro, and all politics is local politics.


And I’d still be speakah if I were alive


Still, the collision of environmental, neighborhood and social justice issues is making people squirm in a place where the only thing more important than making the world better can be keeping Woodstock the same.


There you have it. 


Which is more important: making the world better, or keeping everything the same?


Nobody would tell you they don’t want these people in our town,” said Jeff Moran, the town supervisor, who has been a conflicted supporter of the rental project.


Jeff Moran, the town supervisor, in his office, has been a conflicted supporter of the project.


“Instead, they talk about the effect on the quality of life, ramping up the costs of services and those kinds of things.”


If so, those opponents are thinking shallowly.few children in the property, so the school budget will be minimally impacted. 


It will be multi-generational, one of the first low-income projects to encourage a variety of lifestyles, from retired seniors to young families and low-wage earners.


Then too, the housing will create jobs – some temporary ones in construction, and a few permanent ones in property management, and the residents will be adding their spending to the town’s economy.


RUPCO’s estimates of the property’s economic benefits

(Note that this was the 63-unit version, not the 53- units approved.)


“But there’s a joke in town that the reason The Woodstock Times costs a dollar is because people don’t want change. People come here and they think they have an investment in the town being a certain way.”


Opponents, particularly in neighborhoods near the project site, said the issue was not Nimbyism –


Perish the thought!


Not us! We’re very tolerant!


– or opposition to public housing –


Heavens no!


How draw you suggest I don’t like affordable housing


– but practical objections based on Woodstock’s small size (population about 6,000), charmingly Brigadoonish downtown and creaky infrastructure.


Of course that it, we’re just trying to be thoughtful. 


I’m trying to plan for the future here


Among their complaints: the project is too big –


“Yes, some of my best friends are low-income people, but would you let your daughter marry one?”


– it is at a dangerous bend for traffic –


And we wouldn’t to have to slow down our SUV’s.


– and the site should remain green space.


There’s the truest reason, the one that admits of no refutation – we don’t want you here.


Any questions?


You know there’s something that’s goin’ on around here,
That surely, surely, surely won’t stand the light of day.
Crosby, Stills, & Nash, Long Time Gone


[Continued tomorrow in Part 2.]