Start talking real estate development and most people get hot under the collar quickly, thinking about the loss of heritage and green space, and greedy developers filling their pockets. However, there are many good reasons to say yes to development. It is possible to go from “not in my back yard!” (NIMBY) to “yes in my back yard!” (YIMBY), with a community and its citizens reaping the benefits.
In many communities throughout Maine, the demand for housing continues to grow and the need for adequate commercial real estate is on the increase. Towns that have gotten creative with their expansion options, and approach development collaboratively with tax payers, are experiencing a surge in economic growth. Saying “yes” to development is saying “yes” to opportunities.
- Diversity and inclusivity in housing and education
- Efficient use of land and buildings
- Enrichment of neighborhoods
- Increased services and programs for residents
- Improved infrastructure
- Effective transportation options
More Opportunities for Residents & Businesses
When there is a shortage of adequate housing and commercial business properties, inequity and exclusion soon follow. When demand for space is at a premium, pricing quickly forces many out of the market, and residents and businesses ultimately suffer.
A community that says no to development without taking the time to find alternatives and explore creative solutions for compromise, will lose out as residents seek affordable housing elsewhere, and businesses move to more accommodating areas. Development provides for these increasing demands for space, allows a community to retain its workforce and employers, and stay competitive in the global marketplace.
Maine’s advances in adaptive reuse of buildings such as our mill compounds and the Air Force Base in Brunswick has offered many solutions to housing and commercial property needs. These once abandoned and broken-down properties are now thriving hubs of residential and commercial activity.
YIMBY and the Creative Economy
There are too many stories of business and job losses to other states and countries, and preventing this comes in large part in allowing adequate development for local facilities and infrastructure.
Maine’s lobster industry is a great example of a creative economy benefiting tremendously from proactive development. Cold storage facilities built locally on the Maine coast now allow us to keep jobs here in Maine, reduce product waste and transportation costs significantly, and expand our position in this lucrative market.
Another example is Maine’s microbrewery sector. Allagash put down roots in a depressed economic area of Portland, that has now become a microbrewery mecca! The activity produced by a confident first-in business owner, resulted in drawing additional businesses to the area, generating more business growth as the buzz grew and more commercial leasing options were created.
Leadership & YIMBY
In order for good development to make it past the doors of town hall, towns and their officials need to adapt with the times and the necessity for development. Use guidelines, building codes and town ordinances and zoning need to adjust accordingly to fit current use requirements and opportunities. Existing owners need more flexibility to accommodate growing needs, and potential new owners need support in what has become an over-complicated process.
Town leadership needs to invite a conversation with its community, so constructive discussions about development can occur. When people feel heard, and common ground can be found, then a development plan can move forward successfully. Leadership must be open, and start the conversation.
The Future of Smart Growth Development
To have economic growth in a community, we must provide the housing and commercial real estate necessary.
If a community is going to draw a hard line on development, then obvious questions are raised:
If there is no development, then how can we accommodate our needs?
If not this development then what is the alternative?
How can a community raise the necessary revenue, and limit tax increases, without development?
It is part of our culture in the U.S. to innovate, change and grow. When we don’t adapt, we lose. Saying “yes” to development doesn’t mean we have no limits, that there is no plan, that the evil developers are going to take over. Saying “yes” to development means we are open to creative strategies for addressing the needs of our citizens and businesses. When it comes to development, we are not so limited by our geography as we are our resistance to transformative change.
Special thanks to Magnusson Balfour Brokers Dennis Wheelock and Craig Church for their valuable input on this article!