“NIMBY” is an acronym tossed about in local government circles. It stands for “not in my backyard”. It describes a phenomenon where local residents rise up to oppose changes in their neighborhoods. Of course, NIMBY and the mobilization of residents depends on word getting out about the proposed changes.
Miami-Dade Commissioners are on track to stop the mobilization of residents by fundamentally altering the way in which notice is given.
Let’s face it. It can be tough out there for developers. You have the costs of land acquisition. There are architect and planners to by paid. There are guys with shovels and hard hat. And bulldozers ready to knock down trees. They don’t come cheap. A conga line of concrete trucks must be arranged. Not to mention the lawyers and lobbyists. There are 13 County Commissioners, each with their own favorite lobbyist and those guys and gals don’t come cheap.
The last thing a developer wants to do is to awaken the sleeping giant of public participation and opposition. For some projects, it’s better that the people in the surrounding area not know until it’s too late, like at the grand opening ribbon cutting.
That’s why the County Commission is moving to alter a system that’s been in place. The sponsors and the developer community use words to describe the change in the law like “updating”, “streamlining”, and modernizing. It’s more like allowing developers to whisper into the maw of a hurricane — they’re better off if no one hears.
Right now, a development of regional impact, like a new housing development or a major shopping mall, requires mailing notice of the zoning change hearing to residents within a mile radius of the property. District boundary changes, special exceptions, unusual uses, or use variances require notice to people living within a half mile. Under the new code, this wouldn’t change.
However, for smaller scale developments, like a proposal to build 10 units or fewer, notice would only have to be sent out to property owners within 500 feet of the change. In a County where redevelopment of property is going to become more common than initial development, this is going to have a greater impact on neighborhoods.
The changes to the County law will also decrease the time that the notice must be given before the hearing, limiting the ability of local residents to organize to oppose a proposed change.
And it’s not like residents can just keep an eye out on local properties for posted notices of zoning change hearing dates and times. Developers only have to post a “courtesy notice” on their property. The County considers it a “best practice”, but if the notice falls over or is stolen or is vandalized, its absence won’t have an effect on whether the hearing goes forward.
Right now, notice has to be published in a newspaper. Few people get The Miami Herald delivered. Even fewer residents, apart from lawyers on Brickell Avenue and in downtown Miami receive the Daily Business Review. Notice on local government websites are often squirreled away behind a half dozen layers or more.
The rule is more like the attempt to give notice is just as good as actually giving notice. It’s not.
Most every homeowner has an email address and a cellphone. FPL and natural gas companies are good at sending out notices to smartphones that give warnings about incoming storms or overdue bills and impending utility cut-offs. They’ve geo-mapped those phone numbers and email addresses to physical property addresses. The County should apply a little pressure and persuade the utilities to share that information.
That way, notice could be given directly and repeatedly for a fraction of a cent each, rather than costing a dollar or more per notice.
The developers like to talk about the cost and effort required in providing notice to the public. But the cost of mailing out notices even for the largest projects is minimal. The system does need to be “streamlined” and “modernized”, but the way the County’s solution is take the residents, and their pesky objections out of the process.