- The Washington Times - Friday, December 15, 2000

The battle against sensible development couched in the guise of sprawl control has more victims than developers and real estate professionals. The latest sacrificial lamb on the altar of controlled growth is affordable housing.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition publishes a newsletter called the NIMBY Report. NIMBY is the acronym for "not in my back yard," which is the battle cry of some communities and homeowners who fear a specific type of development coming to a nearby neighborhood or parcel of land.

You may have seen a group of such folks gathered at the courthouse steps to protest a planned highway, tower for wireless communication, water tower or other public facility. Their latest target is affordable housing.

The NIMBY Report documents several cases across the country that demonstrate the power of NIMBY lobbies and show how fears of development can leave some segments of society literally out of a home.

In one instance, senior citizens being forced out of Chicago to find affordable housing will no longer be able to look to the Catholic Charities Housing Development Corp. for help. Residents there pressured the Country Club Hills, Ill., city council to reconsider its approval of a 70-unit project that was to have been built on church land and serve the church's parishioners. The city offered an alternative site on city property, but it needed $250,000 in infrastructure improvements.

What's more interesting about this case is that the development corporation had received a grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to build the project and also had gotten approval for the project from both the city planning commission and city zoning board. Yet NIMBYs in the area were able to stop it cold.

Such attacks on affordable housing development aren't limited to one area of the country, either. Communities in Colorado, Louisiana and New Jersey are struggling to be able to create affordable housing for senior citizens.

Residents from Jefferson Parish, La., a suburb of New Orleans, gathered nearly 200 signatures on a petition opposing a group home that would house five residents with Alzheimer's disease. A council member from Jefferson Parish led the fight and sued the developer to stop the group home from opening. The group-home developer won under the Fair Housing Act. However, the council member then appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals in the Fifth Circuit, which ultimately upheld the lower court decision, so the group home can be built.

One of the casualties involved an ordinance in Telluride, Colo., a ski community where rents exceed what working people are able to pay. The locality, which possesses home-rule powers, decided to pass an ordinance allowing developers to build new communities as long as 40 percent of the project was reserved for ski-community workers.

One developer challenged the ordinance in court, claiming it set up a form of rent control, which is against Colorado state law. The Colorado Supreme Court agreed, despite statewide surveys that had revealed affordable housing to be one of the state's top needs. Geoff Wilson, general counsel of the Colorado Municipal League, which conducted the surveys, says the court's ruling "gives localities one less way of dealing with this critical issue."

A group known as Concerned Homeowners Opposed to Ridgefield Sprawl (CHORUS) in Ridgefield, N.J., successfully stopped the development of a 226-unit senior-housing complex by complaining to the local governing body that the 5-acre development would increase traffic, ruin the neighborhood and increase noise from emergency vehicles.

The council agreed with CHORUS and prohibited the developer from building the project.

One of the objectives of anti-sprawl groups is to bring about higher-density development to eliminate longer commutes and decrease congestion. However, when developers propose projects that might contribute to that goal, they find the door shut in their faces.

M. Anthony Carr has covered housing and real estate issues for 11 years. Send comments to 8411 Arlington Blvd., Fairfax, Va. 22031; or via e-mail (macarr@nvar.com).

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