A problem that pro-housing YIMBYs face in communities nationwide is that the NIMBYs opposing them are much better organized. The reason boils down to the classic problem of concentrated costs and dispersed benefits: the beneficiaries of new housing are scattered, while those who benefit from a housing shortage–and thus higher prices–are concentrated. These organizational skills enable NIMBYs to dominate the discussion, something evident after the recent rejection of a development project in Ardsley, New York.
The Jefferson Development Group wanted to build the Saw Mill River project, a development that would include 272 apartments in downtown Ardsley on land now owned by the chemical company Akzo Nobel. During a February hearing for the development, 30 people spoke against it while none spoke in favor. A petition against the project got 1,300 signatures, and houses and streets were adorned with signs reading “STOP THE JEFFERSON.” A blog with that title was also made. As a consequence, Akzo Nobel cancelled its contract to sell the property to Jefferson because they lost confidence that the property would be rezoned from industrial to mixed-use commercial and residential.
One complaint was that the project would cause excess traffic. Ardsley, which is an affluent suburb just north of The Bronx, has narrow roads compared to other suburbs in Westchester County. Local developer and placemaker Padriac Steinschneider noted that traffic lights retard the flow of automobiles. The pre-programmed delays impede people, but they do not improve safety because drivers rely on the color of the light more than their own senses. He suggested that replacing traffic lights with stop signs, which force drivers to be alert, would speed traffic in Ardsley. He also discussed how Addyman Square, a towncenter featuring several restaurants and shops, could be made more pedestrian friendly if it was redesigned as a roundabout, a la Poynton square. He believed this would encourage more walking. Redesigning the square, and expanding sidewalks alongside Saw Mill River Road, would be inexpensive and could be paid for using revenue from the project.
Another complaint was that the project would overburden the schools. One problem with this idea is that the apartments in the project all had either one or two bedrooms. Even if the project brought a significant number of children into the school system, a typical classroom can absorb 3 to 4 more kids. It would take an enormous amount of development before concerns about overcrowding and split scheduling were legitimate.
The refusal shown towards the Jefferson Group’s project demonstrates the need for local YIMBY organizations in cities nationwide. In the event that the project may have had supporters, they did a poor job addressing opponents’ arguments. For example, the online petition against the project lists “environmental impacts, traffic congestion, noise pollution, air quality, flooding, train commute, school overcrowding, close proximity to the Rivertown Square and Saw Mill River Parkway” as disadvantages. But no online petition was created explaining how added development and population can generate the money needed to improve those problems. Sadly, this disparity in activism exists nationwide.