Friday, September 23, 2016

confessions of a NIMBY (guest post by abe saffer)

Lyttonsville is one of Silver Spring's oldest neighborhoods, but a new plan from Montgomery County calls its future into question. Check out this guest post from local resident and friend of JUTP Abe Saffer. We happily accept guest posts, and if you've got something to say, send an email to just up the pike at gmail dot com.

I have a confession; I am a NIMBY. The term sounds like a mix between a character on a show for children and some incurable disease. In reality, it’s an acronym, standing for Not In My Back Yard. It’s shorthand to describe someone who objects to any project that, while the larger community wants or needs it, could have personally negative repercussions for that person. These negative repercussions include everything from being unsightly, dangerous, or likely to lower property values.

That description fits me exactly.

Affordable apartments in Lyttonsville today. All photos by Thomas J. Leonard on Flickr.

Former Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neil liked to say, “all politics is local,” now one of the most used political clich├ęs. Former-President Ronald Reagan asked the now famous question at a 1980 debate, “are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Both are another way of asking the status of your backyard. As a NIMBY, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this frame of reference when I consider for whom to cast my vote in any election, for any level of government.

I am a strong advocate for increased affordable housing, increased public transportation, and increased opportunity for people to live in my beloved community. However, because I wear the NIMBY label with pride, I can voice my serious reservations about the Lyttonsville sector plan currently under consideration by the Montgomery County Council. The plan covers an area including the Summit Hills apartment complex, the Rosemary Hills neighborhood, and two planned Purple Line stations. At its heart sits the Coffield Community Center.

As I have admitted, I am a NIMBY. Historically, policy makers find it easier to dismiss the concerns of people like me. They say their focus is on the “greater good.” However, to ignore the concerns of my neighbors and I is shortsighted. The residents shared proposals, both self-serving proposals as well as selfless, with County employees at multiple working sessions. and public hearings. The proposals would allow Lyttonsville to grow in a reasonable and responsible way, while maintaining its unique character.

Since its creation in 1853 by a freed slave for other free slaves, Lyttonsville has become incredibly diverse. It has a history of residents tackling challenges together, as a community. It took until the late 1960s and early 1970s, after years of citizen lobbying, that the community got running water, and paved roads. During the Purple Line’s initial planning, the massive rail yard and maintenance shop’s location was Lyttonsville. Yet again, unified community lobbying achieved the relocation of the maintenance shop to Prince George’s County, but the train storage yard will remain.

Lyttonsville's main street, Brookville Road, was replaced by an industrial park in the 1970s.
However, the planning board feels they can put the added density in Lyttonsville, because while it's a smaller area, it has room for growth and has historically not had as much political power. I just feel they are packing density in Lyttonsville and not really doing it in a responsible way.

However, as has seemingly been the historical trend, the solution has a vastly disproportionate effect on the greater Lyttonsville area. The current proposal is to increase the number of households from 780 to 3500. As anyone who has visited the area, it’s hard to see how the community could withstand the massive influx of new residents. This is what worries me about the proposed density increases in the latest sector plan draft.

However, the community used their knowledge of the area, and the Westbard sector plan as a guide on how much of an increase to expect and accept. While Westbard is larger in area, the proposed density increase was less than in the Lyttonsville sector plan. Ultimately, the County Council approved just half the density of Westbard.

Even though I am a NIMBY, I understand the need to keep focus on the greater good. This ensures that some communities will face added inconvenience by civic projects from time to time. I believe I share this understanding with my neighbors. In a recent community meeting, residents did agree density would, and should increase.

I see the intention of this plan. While the number of people who want to live inside the beltway in Montgomery County increases, the land area is constant. Therefore, density must increase. I like that the plan wants to add a little retail, and they want to highlight the history of Lyttonsville.

If EYA can execute its plan, there are more upsides, but since they don't have any letters of intent or partnerships firmly in place, I remain nervous.

The focus of my testimony to the Planning Board was this community is a model for diversity. Lyttonsville should be a point of pride for Montgomery County. Sadly the County’s actions have shown it does not share this view. Given the dramatic density increase proposal, it forces consideration of an important question for a majority-minority community; does the county assume they can saddle Lyttonsville with a disproportionately greater amount of inconvenience compared with other areas?

Though, I’m a NIMBY, so what do I know?


Matt L. said...

First and foremost, props to the author for being honest.

"The proposals would allow Lyttonsville to grow in a reasonable and responsible way, while maintaining its unique character."

Hand-wavy arguments like this are among the reasons that NIMBYs get easily dismissed as grounded in something other than fact & evidence... I'm not sure anyone really believes that your neighborhood's character is really that "unique".

Jonathan Bernstein said...

Abe, looks like you want the Gwen Wright table at Monday's meeting!

leonor said...

Abe, I too don't feel the term NIMBY is a bad word, and I agree with the previous poster and thank you for your sincerity in your post. A couple of points, I am pretty sure the actual area slated for redevelopment in Westbard is considerably smaller than even our western portion of GL sector plan. They are not near a Metro nor a future Purple Line station. The 50% reduction in Westbard's density came from reverting the proposed CRT zoning on all industrial zones to industrial, thereby removing 1000 units. You could say that a coalition of dedicated hard working business people and residents have already taken several hundred units off the table through our successful advocacy to retain our small local business community. It could have been worse.

The real danger lies in continuing to think that we are a unique special community who should get a pass on the County's stated Smart Growth policy. Every community thinks they are unique and special, we are not so different...diverse? Just look around, again, we are not unique in that respect.

I have still not heard a valid argument for opposing the sector plan. Like every other community, we don't want too much affordable housing, no more traffic and fear school crowding...the same complaints as Westbard and Chevy Chase Lake.