NAFFBLOG: A Selectman’s Love Letter to the NIMBYs

Chris Naff's blog launches today with a letter to (some of) his fellow residents.

NAFFBLOG: A Selectman’s Love Letter to the NIMBYs
Flier for "I Love My Old Home Town," by Vaudeville performer Harry Lauder. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution's Open Access.

It never fails.

In fact, it’s often predictable. Anytime a new development in a small town like Millbury is proposed, the Not-In-My-Back-Yard folks – or NIMBYs as they’re commonly known – come out of the literal woods to argue for any reason they can to prevent the project from moving forward.

"There’s not enough parking!”

“What about the traffic?”

“That’s simply too big.”

No matter the project, be it commercial, industrial, or residential, the mere idea of change is enough to send the NIMBYs into a fear-mongering tailspin full of misinformation and vitriol towards anyone who comes close to supporting new growth in town.

I respect the NIMBYs. Their worst fears are hardly ever realized, but you have to appreciate that they are at the very least willing to participate in civic engagement. The community is supposed to provide its input, especially on matters on the future of our town. I can understand and respect that.

What we need to reframe is the entire conversation on growth, and how we approach the inevitable change we are about to face as a community. To do so, I am writing a love letter to the NIMBYs in hopes that we can better understand each other. Here goes:


Dear NIMBYs,

I know you think the town was just the right size when you were either a) born here or b) moved here. Clearly, the town was smaller before your arrival, and you are totally okay with the growth that took place before you showed up. Anything beyond that, obviously, is appalling. The town, in your eyes, was only supposed to grow big enough to allow your housing to be built.

I also know you fear traffic. I hate traffic, too. But we had the same fear about the Mall (sorry, the Shoppes at Blackstone Valley – a pox on who’s ever house forgot to make them include Millbury in the name), and outside of the surge before Christmas, the town traffic attributable to the Mall really isn’t that noticeable.

And welcoming new industry to town is certainly scary. I get it. But the growth in our commercial tax base was in decline for 15 years, and if something doesn’t give, we’ll be looking at a tax override sooner than we think.

You see, my beloved NIMBYs, I appreciate your care an interest for our town. I do, however, many of your fears are misguided and if your policy preferences were enacted, they will have dire consequences for our community.

Blocking new businesses from coming to town inhibits our ability to grow the commercial and industrial sector of our tax base. When that happens, we increase the burden on our residents. After the Mall was completed, we have drastically failed to attract enough businesses to town. If there was still any doubt as to whether or not we should bring new industry to Millbury, I ask you to simply look at the increases to the assessment on your homes in the last 4 years.

Preventing housing is a direct cause of increased housing costs. Housing is a pure result of supply and demand. As more people want to live in an area (demand) developers respond by building more housing (supply). When we don’t allow for enough development, demand outpaces supply and prices for apartments and houses rise. The state’s housing crises didn’t magically appear.

And that is the crux of the issue. For a significant portion of America, the value of one’s home presents a majority of one’s net worth. So while NIMBYs publicly argue about parking, traffic, and the height of buildings, they either consciously or subconsciously also want to protect the value of their home. And I don’t blame them, but we must move beyond the point where blocking housing development  becomes a retirement plan.

Whether we recognize it or not, the Millennial generation is now the country’s largest. Yes, we’re even bigger than the Baby Boomers. And while trying to avoid summarizing this argument to “okay boomer,” there needs to an acceptance of what Millennials represent: significant buying power. We are not 22 anymore. We’re in our 30’s with jobs that afford us nice homes and nice apartments…when we can find them. Speak to any homebuyer in the market today; it’s a battlefield of low inventory and lots of well-qualified buyers putting up cash or 20% down.

Preventing growth increases our taxes, makes housing more expensive (in an already expensive state), and prevents the next generation from calling Millbury home. And while not every NIMBY is a Boomer, most of you Boomers are NIMBYs. Every generation must decide which future they want to leave for their children and their grandchildren. In our discourse, growth is a war fought with culture, not policy. If you NIMBYs have your way, your children and their grandchildren won’t
be living in Millbury, they’ll be living in Stockbridge.

Best regards,

Chris Naff is a member of the Select Board in Millbury. Reach him at