‘Build It, Just Not Here'
by Lew Sichelman

The majority of Americans prefer to keep land undeveloped. But they're not necessarily as altruistic as you might think.

Although nearly three out of four who participated in a recent survey said they oppose new development in their communities, they are more likely to be concerned about their own pocketbooks than the environment or even simply keeping things the way they are.

The survey by the Saint Consulting Group, a firm which specializes in land-use politics, found that twice as many Americans actively oppose development as support it.

Why? More than a third said they wanted to protect property values, while just 11 percent desired to protect the environment. Almost 29 percent said they wanted to preserve the character of their communities.

This is the second year for the survey, called the Saint Index by the Hingham, Mass.-based company. And it has started to "yield trends," says Patrick Fox, the international company's Boston-based president. The telephone survey of 1,000 randomly selected participants was taken last fall.

One trend is the importance voters place on a political candidate's position regarding new development and growth. More than nine out of ten say it is a key issue when they decide on who to vote for, and Fox says that "this forceful statistic corroborates last year's Saint Index, which yielded the same number."

Three out of four respondents gave local elected officials no better than a "C" when rating their performance with regard to development. And 66 percent indicated local government does a "fair-to-poor" job on planning and zoning issues. That's up from 61 percent in the first study.

Cynicism over the approval process also is growing. Last year, 70 percent said the relationship between local officials and developers make the permitting process unfair. This year, 75 percent said it is inequitable

"Development has become a clear political issue," Fox said.

According to the survey, though, "NIMBYism" is alive and well in America. NIMBY stands for "Not in My Backyard," and it is a popular rallying cry among developers who argue that anti-development factions want it both ways -- not here but over there.

"The very projects (people) oppose would probably be all right someplace else," Fox says.

The most dreaded forms of development are landfills, quarries and power plants, all of which drew a 75 percent of greater "no, not here" response.

Wal-Mart was opposed by 68 percent of those polled, up from 63 percent a year ago -- even though most said they enjoyed the "big-box" experience. Casinos were opposed by 67 percent.

Single-family housing is the most widely acceptable form of housing. Only 6 percent of those polled were against it. Apartments were opposed by 34 percent, down from 48 percent last year.

Grocery stores are more acceptable than office buildings and large shopping centers, though resistance to all of these forms of commercial development was less in this year's survey.

Published: January 10, 2007