At Seattle Transit Blog, we often play host to arguments for density and affordable housing played against neighbourhood and community groups who fight to keep things in “character” and “scale”. In her book, Snob Zones: Fear, Prejudice, and Real Estate, Lisa Provost has taken a look at how zoning rules in small towns across New England have often been used to block any housing that is new, moderately priced or moderately sized. Straight away, the book shows the arguments and techniques used to fight housing are nearly identical to what is attempted here, even though the towns in the book are often orders of magnitude smaller than Seattle and thousands of miles away.
Snob Zones is a collection of in-depth case studies of project and zoning clashes in small towns in Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts – the book takes its name from Massachusetts law 40B, the so-called “anti–snob zoning act”. In each case, when developers arrive with plans to build housing, be it $300,000 condos or a moderately-size retirement home, local residents fight the proposals by turning up to review meetings and arguing, organising communication drives to local politicians, and passing strict “character” rules that are nearly impossible to pass.
More below the fold.
The result? In Easton, Massachusetts, a development of 1,000-square-foot cottage-homes to be priced between $250,000 and $340,000 were rejected in part because neighbourhood groups argued the development would be a “mini ghetto” and a “glorified trailer park”. In Milbridge, Maine, seasonal workers sleep in cars and tents because there isn’t housing, meanwhile multi-family housing developments languish in permitting purgatory. At one point Prevost speaks to a demographer who says, “This is a world where facts are irrelevant”. In nearly all examples in the book, the NIMBYs and CAVE (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) have the upper hand.
We are fortunate in Seattle that neighbourhood groups don’t have the sort of iron grips on development their counterparts in these New England towns do, but we do still have “liberals” like Bruce Meyers of NW 58 Street in this article:
“And I discovered a couple of weeks ago,”said Bruce Meyers, “that it was going to be some type of apartment.”
And not just any apartment. But a 43-unit boarding house across the street from the townhouse Meyers bought four years ago.
Entirely without self-awareness or irony, Mr Meyers has moved into a new construction townhouse and has nearly immediately started to fight to keep any new neighbors from arriving.
“Even though the workforce housing of today bears no resemblance to the public housing highrises of the past – the poster child being Chicago’s notoriously crime-ridden Cabrini-Green – local opposition is still one of the greatest impediments to its construction.”
Spot on in my book, whether you’re in Ossippee, New Hampshire, or Seattle, Washington.