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These NIMBYs have a point

By GREG HAMILTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 18, 2001


There's a term used in some circles for people who object to having things like highways or landfills put in near their homes. They're called

NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard), and the label is hardly flattering.

Typically, NIMBYs are folks who put personal interests ahead of the common good, often for understandable reasons. Sure, they say, we all could use a new sewer plant or fleet maintenance garage -- just put it somewhere else.

In Beverly Hills today, many residents are up in arms over a proposed apartment complex and retail center in their neighborhood. Some might label them NIMBYs and discount their views, saying there is a need for low-cost housing in Citrus, especially for senior citizens on fixed incomes and young wage earners.

But, guess what? This time, the objectors are absolutely right.

Kevin Cunningham, the former School Board member and the Realtor who helped bring the Brown Schools to the community, unveiled his latest gift to Beverly Hills last week before the County Commission. It's a doozy.

He would like county permission to shoehorn five three-story apartment buildings and a 16,500-foot retail strip onto a tight 9-acre site on Regina Boulevard near County Road 491. The proposal tries to squeeze money out of every square inch of the site, while eliminating anything that would cost the developers extra, even if those items would help renters and neighbors.

On Tuesday, dozens of Beverly Hills residents pounced on the plans at the commission meeting, raising the kind of common-sense questions that a conscientious developer should have considered long before the project got this far.

For example, if the developers intend to market the apartments to the elderly population of Beverly Hills, how can they seriously propose a three-story building with no elevators? The answer: Elevators cost money.

This ignores basic facts of life, such as that elderly folks -- and younger ones, too -- don't want to drag themselves up and down two flights of stairs, especially when they're hauling bags of groceries or moving furniture.

And what happens when a third-floor resident needs an ambulance? Ever try maneuvering a gurney up and down stairwells, especially when every second counts?

But profit is driving this plan, so the elevators had to go.

That thought process carried over to the retail stores as well. The only significant objection from county planning staff was that the proposed retail area was too big. They recommended adhering to the lower square footage called for in the county rules. But the developers objected, saying they need every cent of revenue a larger shopping area would generate in order to build a nicer building.

I find it hard to believe that someone intending to cram five three-story buildings and a sprawling shopping center onto a postage stamp is terribly concerned about aesthetics. The name of the game is profit, pure and simple.

The neighbors also raised touchy issues such as the clientele the apartments would attract. Not to say that renters are bad people, but apartments by their nature attract a transient crowd, often with little interest in maintaining property that isn't their own.

The buildings may look wonderful the day they cut the ribbons, but will anyone bother to maintain them five years, 10 years from now? If not, what impact will that have on the surrounding property values? It won't enhance them, that's for sure.

As Tuesday's meeting dragged on and angry residents rained more questions (can the Beverly Hills fire services handle blazes at buildings that size? What about ADA requirements? What about the increased amount of traffic on roads already over-burdened?), the commissioners made an astute decision.

The commission is required to hold a second hearing on the proposal, and that one will be held not at the Masonic Building in Inverness but at the Beverly Hills Recreation Association Clubhouse at 5 p.m. on March 27.

That building is large enough to handle the overflow crowd that spilled into the hallways during Tuesday's meeting. And, it's in the residents' back yard, the home turf of the NIMBYs.

I don't envy the folks on the developers' team who will walk into the lion's den on that date. Might I suggest that the team's uniform that day include asbestos britches?

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