By Charles Houston
“You’re home early,” Byne Rood said to her husband as she walked into their sunroom.
“I took the afternoon off. I wanted to do some economic research.” Robert Rood had an investment firm in Middleburg.
“Boring! Did you fall asleep?” Byne kidded
Robert smiled and asked his wife, “How was your day?”
“Lots of errands. Met Tissie for lunch in Reston.”
Robert arched his eyebrows quizzically.
“She brought a friend … a woman named Alice Broygaal. Give me your opinion on something.”
“Alice Broygaal isn’t on my short-list for new friends. She lives in McLean and paints; she kept pulling out her phone and showing me photos of her art. Wasn’t bad, but not our taste. I finally got a chance to get a word in, so I talked about what it was like to live out here. [The Roods live on a small horse farm south of Purcellville.] Then I started talking about sprawl, traffic, conservation …”
“You unloaded on her, I bet,” Robert chuckled.
“Probably,” answered a chagrinned Byne, “but then she interrupted me … almost got in my face, and said to me, ‘That’s so NIMBY.’ It caught me off guard and I didn’t know how to respond. How would you have answered her?”
Not In My Back Yard
Robert thought a minute and answered, “NIMBY is a pejorative term someone uses when you’re talking about growth, and the problems it creates. It implies that you are being selfish. Instead of being defensive – which is probably the reaction most people would have – I’d go on the offense: ‘Absolutely. Of course, I’m NIMBY. Who doesn’t want to protect their back yard?’ That’d probably shut them up. If they kept pestering you, there’s more you can say.”
“Such as?” Byne prompted.
“Well, for one thing being against sprawl is an opinion. Saying that’s NIMBY is also an opinion. You won’t reconcile the conflicting opinions but you can defend NIMBY. Use examples. Let’s say a neighbor spends weekends riding his dirt bike around his pasture. I don’t like it. Can I stop him? Probably not. While there could be some County noise regulations, it’s his land, and he can use it pretty much as he sees fit … within reason. He can’t put up a factory, set up a car lot, or develop a big office building, at least in a rural area. That’s because of zoning.”
“And zoning is a contract between citizens, that governs how land is used,” Byne interjected to the nod of her husband. “I guess that it starts as a social contract based on reasonableness, and then gets codified into zoning law.”
Robert said, “Let’s say that another neighbor demands that I let him pitch his tent in my backyard. I would be perfectly within my rights in preventing his intrusion. That’s literally NIMBY.”
“Very narrowly focused,” Byne commented.
“Yeah. But it gets broader. Look at Loudoun’s zoning. Most everything in the western part is zoned agricultural. You can build houses there but not apartments or shopping centers. So, NIMBY can extend ‘backyard’ to include tens of thousands of acres, as part of zoning.
Is that selfish? Perhaps in a way, but that would be a collective self-interest legislated into existence by a Board of Supervisors with county-wide authority. Maybe ‘protectiveness’ is a better word to use.”
Byne agrees, “I think I married a philosopher … NIMBY really kicks in when some developer wants to rezone something so he can build more than current zoning allows. People get wind of it; they gripe and hopefully email Supervisors. I think that conflict – protesting a rezoning some developer wants – that can spark a backlash based on NIMBY.”
“Take it a step further, Byne. From whom would the backlash come?”
Byne needled her husband, “Maybe a grammarian, not a philosopher. Anyway, I’ll have to speculate. Maybe real estate people. Or people who own similar land and want theirs rezoned so they can cash in, too. Probably people elsewhere in the county who see us as elitists, or as a group asking for special favors. They all would say ‘NIMBY.’”
Robert replied, “I think you’re right, but in that instance the favor we want is just to keep the present zoning. Maybe it’s not selfishness on our part, but envy by the people who chant ‘NIMBY.’ You know, in any conflict, like the one you had at lunch, the best thing to do is to keep quiet. Maybe you just say that there’s simply a difference of opinion, and you agree to disagree.”
“But to conservation people …” Byne started.
“… like us,” Robert finished.
“We embrace NIMBY. It’s the idea of protecting what we have; maybe by improving the zoning that’s the opposite of NIMBY is a free-for-all that would turn into a feeding frenzy. And western Loudoun would be lost,” Byne concluded. “We act politely, we don’t argue, but we always find a way to keep fighting.”
Charles Houston developed office buildings for an Atlanta-based firm. He lives in Paeonian Springs.