NIMBYs, Mini-Golf, Really?

The Saint ReportNIMBY, Planning and Zoning, saintblog, Thought Leadership

niBXen6qTBy Christopher Hopkins, Senior Vice President, The Saint Consulting Group

When you think of miniature golf it is likely to conjure up memories of a fun family outing, that romantic first date or just a fun night out with friends during a summer vacation. But for some people it obviously brings back traumatic experiences and they feel the need to rise up against the evil mini golfers with their purple, orange and green golf balls and keep them from ruining the “character of the community”; away with this menace.

That was the case recently in Owasco, New York, a community of 3,793 in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, which is also the host to countless more summer residents. In the town of Owasco, there was a NIMBY outcry because of an application to add a mini-golf course to an existing drive in restaurant. Well panic set in as the thought of all those golfers reaping havoc on this sleepy lake front town was too much to endure. There were environmental concerns, especially concerning the eighteenth hole where those multi colored balls seem to escape into the abyss. Are they deposited into the local watershed or local reservoirs? Will they soon be coloring our water purple, pink, green and fuchsia as the dye from those golf balls infects our drinking water?

As silly as this all sounds this is an example of NIMBYism attaining a new extreme. You can sometimes understand residents being concerned when an application is filed to construct an asphalt plant in town or a mineral mine, a Wal-Mart, a casino or a whole host of other industries and businesses that may have an impact on the community. One could argue that there will be increased traffic issues, environmental impacts, and a deterioration of community standards.

In most of these cases you can run a campaign of education, transparency and community outreach that will go a long way in answering the questions of your opponents and calming the fears of the community. But in reality what is there to educate a community about a mini-golf course? You could commit to hooking up the obligatory mini-golf windmill to the local electric grid therefore lowering the utility cost for residents but other than that?

In all seriousness, for the vast majority of American’s the largest investment they will ever make in their lifetime is their primary residence and any perceived threat to that asset will rattle the nerves of your average resident. You add on top of that the cries of an environmental apocalypse that extremists say will come with the approval of most projects and again your average voter wants to protect themselves and protect their children.

In Owasco, even the thought of a new miniature golf course sent shivers down the spines of some of the more active residents, (or you could say those residents with too much time on their hands). Neighbors opposed the mini-golf course for a variety of stated reasons including “increased traffic, noise, lighting and increased teenage activity”. Now I have driven by, played, and been near countless miniature golf courses and since most of them are located on a main street, the nightly traffic has more of a noise impact than a miniature golf course. If you can hear anything it would that damn annoying noise of children’s laughter. The opponents also argued that the residents of Owasco keep their properties in “great shape”, properties “that make Owasco a desirable place to live and will be ‘tanked’” if this was approved. There is also apparently a conspiracy within the town government to get the mini-golf course approved; what would you call this, “putt putt gate”?

The mini-golf course was eventually approved but this is a prime example of NIMBYism run amuck, of people who want nothing added to their community. It is also safe to assume that the people who comprised the opposition have enjoyed a round or two of miniature golf in their lifetime but like most NIMBY’s hypocrisy is paramount. It is typical for a NIMBY to use the service or product that they are opposing but they would rather travel to your community to obtain that service or product.

Miniature golf is a fun game to play but they want to come to your town to play. They want to bring the noise, lost golf balls and those dang teenagers to be a plague on your community not theirs.

Christopher Hopkins is Senior Vice President of The Saint Consulting Group, email