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Small City NIMBYism

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While I suppose democratic participation in urban planning is a good thing, in practice, it leads to a lot of situations like we are seeing in Eugene. Housing prices are skyrocketing there, yet basic and obvious plans to ease housing prices and create decent public transportation systems flail because of NIMBYism. On the latter, the bus district’s efforts to expand their rapid transit bus system stalled in a combination of business outrage over the construction that it would require and right-wing morons hating public transportation. The signs opposing the project on the farms outside of Eugene were particularly hilarious. If anything, the anti-density forces are even more infuriating, as they are usually at least nominally liberals, especially in that city. Here we have a smart development looking to build density in a section of the city that could use it. It’s in an area where you already have some walkability but where you could use a lot more. But oh no. Not In My Backyard!

Coughlin’s land is zoned for “community commercial” use and designated as commercial land in the Eugene-Springfield Metropolitan Area General Plan, the region’s blueprint for growth that designates areas of land for different uses.

Retail stores and restaurants are allowed outright on community commercial-zoned land. Apartments are allowed as long as certain building height, dimension, parking and landscaping standards are met. Buildings can rise up to 120 feet under the zoning guidelines. That’s 10 or 11 stories in a typical high-rise.

But the land is surrounded to the east by single-family houses on lots zoned for low-density use, and to the west by Hilyard Street, a strip of city-owned park land and more single-family houses. South of 18th Street, only the seven-story Cascade Manor retirement community building is taller than Amazon Corner would be.

The city approved Coughlin’s project on Jan. 27 with some minor conditions, requiring him to pay for a crosswalk across Hilyard between 31st and 32nd Avenues, and create dedicated right and left turn lanes to help traffic on 31st get onto Hilyard.

Neighbors quickly appealed, setting up a March 1 public hearing. More than 100 people have written letters to the city, a vast majority assailing Amazon Corner as a bad fit for the neighborhood.

William Collinge, a public health researcher who has lived on Kincaid Street off of 32nd Avenue for five years, said he worries about traffic from the development spilling onto side streets such as Kincaid, Alder and Harris streets as motorists try to get downtown from south Eugene while avoiding traffic from Amazon Corner and Albertsons.

“What people are opposed to is the size and the traffic impact, and the implications of that for the character of the neighborhood and quality of life,” Collinge said. “We’re not anti-growth, we’re not anti-development. We’re in favor of smart growth, smart development that respects that character of the neighborhood.”

“We’re not anti-growth, we’re not anti-development. We just oppose any growth and development that might briefly affect my life or make the city livable for the next generation. We have single-family housing to protect after all!”

Obviously, cities like Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco are all dealing with these issues in much more serious situations, where people literally cannot afford to live there, but with enormous homeowner opposition to the density needed to make their city remotely sustainable for most people. In this case, it’s democratic participation undermining a democratic city. And there’s no easy answer in a world where property values are the coin of the realm.

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