Nashville Live — ULI blog forum about NIMBYism

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uliThe Urban Land Institute Nashville Chapter held a forum on NIMBYism and land use politics on Friday, Feb 29, with 84 members getting together in Nashville, and The Saint Report published a live blog report on the discussions.

Major topics including understanding NIMBYism, the impact of political campaigning on the planning process, the failure of developers to rally community support for their projects and how to stop NIMBYs from organizing. Also the shortcomings of “marketing” features and benefits of development projects were illustrated with examples from Mike Saint, chairman of Saint Consulting and one of the founding members of the ULI Nashville Chapter. See the report on March 3 from The Tennessean.

Below is a record from the Live Blog coverage, and your comments are most welcome.

Bert Matthews of the Matthews Company kicked off the meeting and helped folks understand what ULI is and what it does. This is important as the Nashville Chapter is new and founded by a few folks in the room as well as Mike Saint.

Bert is laying out the three facets to being an important chapter in ULI. They are:


Bert is correct when he says that they are succeeding at this time on two fronts. They are viable. 200 members in just a short few months after being certified as an official chapter. They are visible. The turnout is well over 75 this morning and these folks are significant members of the development community in Nashville. What Bert says we need to work on is being valuable. Well, Bert is about to introduce Mike Saint, chairman and CEO of The Saint Consulting Group, and I would bet he is about to fulfill the third criteria.

Understanding Nimbys.

Understanding Nimbys, according to Mike Saint, starts with a story from Saint Consulting’s first engagement. Mike was called into work on a project on Class A office space in the community he lived in. The developer friend didn’t believe Mike when he said that he would receive significant opposition from the community. The developer thought, “How could the residents oppose replacing a junk yard with a beautifully appointed office park with significant benefits?”

Well, Mike was right. The developer’s plan to sneak the proposal through council during August when folks were down on Cape Code was derailed on the first night at the first hearing. Residents stood up and complained about the change. The project was defeated that night. The next day Mike got the call. Four months later, through a political grassroots operation, the residents supported the project. What we found then and what we know now, is that you cannot sell BENEFITS and FEATURES and expect to win the vote. Something else needs to be done…..

The Saint Index — a survey of public opposition to development

One of the ways to understand why the NIMBY movement is so strong in this country is to conduct surveys that will clarify the reasons why people oppose projects in their backyard. The Saint Index does that on an annual basis. Perhaps revealing are the following reasons residents will say no to a new project:

  • Protect Community Character
  • Protect Environment
  • Traffic
  • Protect Real Estate Values

What is interesting from the Saint Index is that 83% of Americans say single family housing is the most welcomed new local development. Yet new housing can be some of the most despised and opposed new development when the time comes for approval. This more than anything according to Mike is the best evidence of what the NIMBY position is – “We recognize that this is needed but we don’t need it here!”

How do you stop NIMBYs?

So, how do you stop the NIMBYs from organizing? According to Mike Saint, you need to understand what it is they want. You need to be dialed in to what is going in the neighborhoods. This is a political process. It is not about features and benefits.

So, to stop them from organizing we need to take away the issues they are concerned about. We need to pull out from under them the issues they will use to organize and instill fear in their fellow neighbors. Going back to the first project we discussed, through outreach and organizing we found that the residents didn’t want the Class A office space because of their concern about children walking on the streets in the winter time due to the sidewalks remaining full of snow. We found that they simply needed a small fix – like a snow blower – to support the project. So instead of the project going down in flames we were able to take the major issue off the table and co-opt former opponents into the political operation we were running to support the project. So now instead of angry residents, we have placated opponents and supporters who always recognized the value of the project.


Q1: Are there universal messages that work at the doors to quell NIMBY opposition?

A1: Each community is different, each community has a different political mindset. What we find is that the simple act of outreach is what is appreciated. People are intrigued that a developer would even visit their door to talk about the project. The most important rule here is to visit early and often.

Q2: Is there a difference in opposition from the community when the planning process is through a design review committee and the entitlements are in place.

A2: Well, no. Government leaders are loathe to make decisions. That is why they create these design review committees. The decision is now off their lap. What I will say is that when people believe that the process is closed, they now have ammunition to use in thier campaign. So whether going for site plan review or a rezoning, you still must insulate yourself against NIMBY opposition.

That was it for the questions. Thanks Mike. Thanks ULI – Nashville. Stay tuned for more live blogging action at upcoming Saint events and conference appearances.

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