The Universal Notebook: NIMBY, the way life should be

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Economic development officials, chamber-of-commerce types and conservative politicians are forever complaining about Maine’s anti-business climate.

Does it ever occur to them that Maine makes development difficult through land use regulations, zoning ordinances and environmental impact laws because that’s the way we want it? When you come right down to it, most Mainers are pretty much anti-development.

In the best of all possible worlds, no undeveloped land should ever be developed. That’s why Maine residents support Lands for Maine’s Future bonds. The best way to keep land undeveloped is to buy it. But even when the land doesn’t belong to them, most Mainers feel they should have a say in what happens on it.

We don’t want the massive Plum Creek development around Moosehead Lake. We don’t want wind turbines erected atop every mountain. We don’t want our rivers and streams dammed up. We don’t want big-box retail stores malling our towns. And we sure as hell don’t want anyone building a house next to ours. That’s the very definition of NIMBYism – not in my backyard.

Here in fair Yarmouth, neighbors not long ago successfully fought off a proposed Walgreen’s pharmacy on Route 1. Now a group of homeowners seem to have forestalled a major new subdivision on one the few remaining parcels of undeveloped land in town.

This fall, Michael Albert of Albert Realty and William T. Conway of Sebago Technics proposed building a 48-house subdivision on 58 acres of woodlands along Hillside Street, land that had been conveyed by Emily Dickinson to Albert and Peter Benard of Ledgewood Construction. Neighbors and abutters in the Applewood subdivision (which presumably was once undeveloped land itself) rose up to complain about traffic, pedestrian safety, inadequate buffers and setbacks, and loss of open space and wildlife habitat.

The truth, of course, is that they just didn’t want a bunch of new homes next to theirs. As I said, that’s the Maine way. Heck, local folk even objected a few years ago when Dickinson built her own home on Hillside Street. Woods should remain woods, fields fields.

Nearly 60 neighbors signed a petition raising objects to the proposed subdivision, to be called McKearney Village. The major complaint seemed to be that the developers proposed connecting their development to Applewood by extending a dead end street through to Hillside. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, cul-de-sac residential developments were all the rage nationally. These days, planners and developers favor subdivisions that are part of the fabric of the community rather than enclaves.

On Nov. 1, the Applewood protesters, the suburban burgher counterparts of EarthFirst! wind-farm opponents, won a temporary victory when the developers withdrew the concept plan for McKearney Village. Town Planner Vanessa Farr tells me, however, that in all likelihood the subdivision plan will eventually be resubmitted, albeit at about half the size and without the through street.

Am I anti-development? I’m a Maine native; you bet I am. I have woods beside and behind my house. I’d rather not see a McKearney Village or an Applewood constructed there. But they are not my woods, so assuming a subdivision is a permitted use, I’d have to think long and hard about objecting to one.

After all, I live in a 1950s subdivision of quarter-acre lots that was once pasture and woods. I’m sure someone at the time thought it was too bad to develop Newell Road, but back then people tended to keep their opinions to themselves.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.