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Mitchell Chapman: YIMBY sentiments are present in the Berkshires

Dream Away lodge render 2 (copy)

An architect's rendering of proposed camp dwellings that would be part of a luxury camping development adjoining the grounds of the Dream Away Lodge on County Road in Becket. The glamping pitch is just one of many development proposals throughout the county of late that have stirred up community debates over preserving current neighborhood character vs. courting investment and development.

Sentiments often characterized as “not in my backyard” — or NIMBY — are common in the Berkshires, particularly when it comes to pot businesses, as The Eagle’s April 15 editorial pointed out after North Adams Mayor Jennifer Macksey’s lawsuit drove away New England Alchemy’s proposed operation on Ashland Street despite the fact that the company had already obtained a special permit from the town’s Planning Board.

Beyond the cannabis industry, developments that cause neighborhood disruption often meet these sentiments, such as a proposed Becket glamping operation that aims to revive the Dream Away Lodge is facing, with the potential influx of outside visitors being a major concern.

“The glamping resort will increase traffic along the two-lane County Road, Becket Road to Lee, and throughout the town of Becket — roads that are already deteriorating and in need of constant repair,” one such concern reads from a Change.org petition against the glamping proposal. Another reads: “The impact to the environment of development of this size includes deforestation, flattening and trampling on vegetation, chopping of branches for campfires, degrading and destruction of wildlife habitats.”

But these sentiments are not universally shared. In fact, views similar to a phenomenon that has taken hold across the nation are being felt in the Berkshires: YIMBY, or “yes, in my backyard.” YIMBY finds its roots in San Francisco, and has been mostly fueled by rising housing costs and the lack of affordable housing, but its central ideas and sentiments are often present in those who are in favor of new developments, such as proposed businesses that face NIMBY opposition.

“The movement is fuelled by the anger of young adults from the millennial generation, many of whom are now in their late 20s and early 30s,” Erin McCormick wrote for The Guardian in 2017, when the movement started to spread nationwide. “Rather than suffer in silence as they struggle to find affordable places to live, they are heading to planning meetings en masse to argue for more housing — preferably the very kind of dense, urban infill projects that have often generated neighbourhood opposition from NIMBYs.”

Locally, YIMBY sentiments have taken the form of backlash to NIMBY, though I would argue that a YIMBY mentality can also take the form of enthusiasm for new development.

“This is why it is so important to be engaged in your local politics,” former North Adams City Councillor Jessica Sweeney wrote in a Facebook post responding to the New England Alchemy situation. “These kinds of moments have ripple effects. Taxes will go up because we were not able to build or stabilize the tax base because new businesses no longer want to come to North Adams, then rents (commercial and residential) will rise, businesses will struggle, and residents will continue to struggle to afford to live here.”

Perhaps a better example of YIMBYism in the Berkshires came last year, when the Dalton Zoning Board of Appeals received backlash for denying a special permit in 2021 for the long running Halloween-themed “Purgatory Road” event that benefited the Berkshire Coalition for Suicide Prevention. The decision came after some neighbors expressed concerns, one of which was the increase in car traffic; ironically, two weeks later, the Dalton ZBA approved an event permit for a car show taking place in a neighboring property.

“The optics may not be so favorable, but I don’t see an issue with this,” Daniel Esko, a Dalton Select Board member, said of the approval of the car show.

This instance of YIMBYism also had financial consequences, as supporters of the “Purgatory Road” event boycotted two businesses of a neighbor who opposed it. He admitted to The Eagle that the boycotts had affected his businesses, and later held a fundraiser for the coalition last fall.

YIMBYism highlights how, while abutting property owners’ concerns about ambitious development projects deserve to be heard, so do the overall needs of their communities.

In truth, YIMBY and NIMBY are two sides of the same coin, and successful communities need a healthy balance of both to succeed — unchecked development can upheave local communities and ruin natural resources, while unchecked opposition to development stunts an area’s economic growth.

It must also be said that such labels are also very limited in their usefulness, presenting a stark binary that isn’t always helpful when discussing individual proposals that have contextual nuance within the communities they hope to call home.

Mitchell Chapman is The Eagle’s weekend news editor, as well as a columnist.

Weekend News Editor and Columnist

Mitchell Chapman has been with The Eagle since 2016. He is a former editor of The MCLA Beacon and was a Berkshires Week intern in 2017.

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