Not In My Back Yard can right an injustice. It can save a neighborhood. An enthusiastic NIMBY worked well a year or so ago in Scarborough, when neighbors successfully challenged a developer’s proposal for zoned community density. Another NIMBY seems to have recently worked in Westbrook, where neighbors sweated a shrunken Wal-Mart out of city officials.

Whether those were worthwhile is in the eye of the beholder. NIMBY can also impose an injustice on a larger neighborhood. To deny a liquefied gas terminal in one neighborhood is to levy a “gas tax” on every neighborhood in the state.

Proposed Wal-Marts are natural breeders for NIMBYs. Objections are often based on “save the neighborhood store.” But this argument also has two sides.

Wal-Mart may ring the death knell for established small businesses, but the strips surrounding Wal- Marts soon fill with other small businesses. To lose a job in the corner grocery is to gain a job in Wal-Mart. As far as employee wages and benefits are concerned, minimum wages and benefits can be matters for legislation. But if such laws are to be written, costs must be shared by all business – a solution certain to be opposed by many “neighborhood grocery” people, which might not be all bad. A rising tide lifts all boats.

Under the guise of “super large employers,” Maryland has attempted to single out Wal-Mart in mandating employee health costs. Hold the presses until the courts have ruled. This solution is almost certain to be unconstitutional.

Objections to Wal-Mart may also be, forgive the thought, elitist. Some people’s dislike of Wal-Mart extends to Wal-Mart customers, whose typical family earns less than $40,000 a year, people to whom low prices are important. Those voicing such objections should realize that with its prices averaging 17 percent below competitors, Wal-Mart saves U.S. consumers $200 billion a year. Government food stamps and surplus foods come to less than $30 billion.

Another objection to Wal-Mart is “green” – concern with human abuses among Wal-Mart suppliers. This is justified on human values, but NIMBY may not be the best tool. The fact is, more pressure can be brought on Wal-Mart after it has invested locally.

On the other side of the NIMBY coin, there are people to whom Wal-Mart has attractions other than price. Travelers in RVs and trailers love the safety and savings of free Wal-Mart parking lots. A Wal-Mart may well reduce urban housing sprawl by centralizing and reducing traffic. For Social Security planners, a Wal-Mart center can be an ideal place for elderly housing. All necessities of life are within easy walking distance.

All this being said, one thing is sure: Few citizens want to leave, without recourse, all decisions in the hands of politicians. Most reserve the right to have a say in their neighborhoods.

NO for NIMBY!! Or maybe, YES!!

Rodney Quinn, a resident of Gorham, is an author and former secretary of state.


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