To make some neighbors happy, a 20-year plan for a landmark university campus and innovation hub has been revised to provide a little less of everything.

According to the new plan, Northeastern University’s Roux Institute will have 27 percent less potential space for instruction, offices, housing, food service, retail and hotel rooms for visiting students and faculty.

It’s too soon to know whether these changes will be enough to satisfy the neighbors, but one thing is completely clear: the NIMBYs (for Not In My Backyard) are winning.

The fight over what should happen to the old B&M baked bean cannery is typical of the kind of conflict that chokes progress all over Maine. Our housing shortage, especially in Southern Maine, is a perfect example of the politics of status quo bias. We know there is a shortage of apartments affordable to working families, but communities demand that all new construction be expensive single-family houses on big lots.

Even in urban neighborhoods, homeowners claim that their property rights include veto power over new buildings on land they don’t own because it would affect, in their judgement, their views or the character of their neighborhood.

The dispute over the Roux Institute is not just about housing, but has many of the same elements, which by now should be familiar.


The institute was created with a $100 million gift from tech entrepreneur and Maine native David Roux and his wife Barbara. It offers graduate studies and research in artificial intelligence, data sciences, digital engineering and advanced life sciences.

In addition to degree programs, Roux offers specific training programs for employees of large Maine businesses, who would otherwise have to recruit out of state to fill high paying jobs.

Last year, it purchased the former B&M plant and its 13.5 acre industrial site. The non-profit created to develop the campus is requesting zoning changes to permit a full build out that could take decades.

Neighbors raised questions about how traffic would flow in an out of a densely developed site and they deserve answers. But it quickly became clear that their concerns went beyond traffic.

Neighbors challenged the need for hotel rooms or housing on campus, and complained about the attractiveness of the buildings pictured in the architect’s drawings, making judgements about how they would fit in with the city skyline.

In short, they acted like they owned the property and it was their project. Some made comments indicating that they would be happy with no project at all, in what they consider should remain a quiet neighborhood.


Neighborhood input is important, but it should not be the last word on development. City officials should listen to the neighbors, but they should also think about the people who don’t live there yet.

Like the students who will come to Portland from all over the world and may decide to stay in Maine to start their business, or the institute’s employees who may want to buy a home a short walk from work, becoming part of the neighborhood in the future.

Those people won’t come to the meetings, or accost city council members at the grocery store because they may not even know that they want to live in Maine someday. But they deserve at least as much concern as the people who happen to live here now – but who may not be living there in 20 years when the project is completed.

It’s a good thing that the residents of Portland didn’t fight the construction of the B&M plant in 1913, which provided good jobs and helped shape the local economy for many years. The NIMBYs shouldn’t be allowed to win this time.

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