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NIMBYs and Dysfunctional Planning in NOVA

Leonard Gilroy
July 4, 2005, 12:44pm

A recent Washington Post article on the proposal to ring the Tyson's Corner Center mall with mid-rise office and condominium towers offers a glimpse into the workings of the kind of dysfunctional planning and development approval system so prevalent nationwide. The proposal would bring a massive mixed use, transit-oriented (the area is slated for a Metrorail extension), residential and office development to this classic "edge city." The article describes the developers' presentation to a local civic group and the hostility with which they were received. Irrespective of the merits of this particular proposal, it explifies a structural defect in the planning process. Despite the fact that since 1994, the County's comprehensive plan has designated this area for higher-density, "downtown"-style development, County elected officials then turn around and implicitly force developers to engage in a dialogue with community groups that may or may not have any tangible stake in the project's outcome: It is exactly this kind of politicization of land use that distorts the real estate market by raising the costs and uncertainty associated with the development approval process. And by giving disproportionate weight to parochial, short-term interests, the regulatory process can render long-range plans meaningless and tends to discount the needs of future residents. What's the point of having a plan for high-density development if you're going to then open the floor to the groups whose primary goal is to derail it? Along this line of thinking, check out this 2001 Reason study, which offers a detailed look at how plans and reality have diverged in Ventura County, CA and the associated logical implications. And rampant NIMBYism has other deleterious consequences, whether you're pro-market or pro-smart growth: Advocates of high-density development are frustrated by NIMBY opposition to densification efforts. Advocates of market-oriented planning are frustrated by NIMBY opposition to market-driven density and their support of strong growth management policies. And, most importantly, the resulting housing shortages drive up costs and send average Joe families further and further away from the metro area core to find affordable housing (see this post). No one wins when the NIMBYs get their way -- except the NIMBYs. A 2003 Reason piece offers an alternative to the type of highly-politicized situation we're seeing in Fairfax County:

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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