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‘Not in my backyard’ isn’t always wrong

December 16, 2018

Why should anyone be forced to accept responsibility for the irresponsibility of others? That’s the question I have with regard to the controversy surrounding “Big Momma’s House,” a transitional living facility proposed to be located in a residential neighborhood on the north side of Pocatello. Having followed this controversy closely, thanks to reporting in the ISJ, I’m amazed at the animus toward and pushback against the residents of the area who just want to keep their neighborhood free of an obvious nuisance.

First, a shout to Shelbie Harris, the reporter who’s covered this for the Journal. I spend about 90 minutes every morning reading newspapers. Shelbie’s latest article, “Homeless Impact,” which appeared in the Dec. 9 edition of the Journal, was the best newspaper article I read that day and possibly that week. I recommend this piece to anyone who wants to know the facts placed in the proper context.

I don’t personally know anyone who’s against transitional housing, halfway houses or whatever else you want to call such a residence. The need is certainly there. But it’s equally true that the reason that the residents of such facilities are in need is that they have better than average propensity not to make great neighbors. I understand that the goal is to keep these folks moving in the right direction and that is certainly laudable. No argument there. But I also think that it’s perfectly reasonable for anyone who owns a home in an area where such a facility is being proposed to be concerned.

In this particular case there is probably a bit more than the usual need for concern.

The first proposed location for Big Momma’s House, on Sublette Street a mile or so south of the current proposed location, was nixed by the City Council after the Bonneville Neighborhood Association successfully appealed a conditional use permit. After that setback, and upon settling on a new proposed location on the 1200 block of Pershing Avenue, a series of missteps by officials responsible for overseeing this project did little to ameliorate anxiety among residents of that area.

By their own admission the Board of Big Momma’s House failed, more than once, to properly comprehend and then take into account the impact of their project on their neighbors. That’s on them, and not the residents of the Pershing neighborhood. “And that kind of hit me right between the eyes,” said the board president upon hearing concerns. Well guess what Mr. board president — that’s how the residents of the area feel too. Except they are not responsible for the feeling and you are.

Then the Chair of the Planning and Zoning Board, which recently voted to approve the current location, donated money, albeit indirectly, to the project — then refused to recuse himself from voting on the project. I was the Chair of Planning and Zoning for several years and had I made such a donation, even indirectly or in a small amount, I would have recused myself. It’s the right thing to do when the appearance of impropriety has the potential to inflame an already tense situation.

Wait, did I just support the notion that public officials ought to exercise good judgment in such matters? Now I’m just being plumb silly. Sorry. Back to reality.

I do not think that the residents in the Pershing Avenue area are out of line to be less than scintillated about any of this. A home is one of the biggest investments that most of us will ever make. When something comes along that has a high potential to adversely affect the quality of life associated with such an investment I don’t think that there is a thing wrong with being anxious.

To all of the social justice warriors out there sniping at the folks on Pershing Street who are against this I have three words: take a hike. Having concerns about this project does not make anyone a bad person. Indeed, it makes them normal. It takes a lot less currency to run your mouth on the Interwebs than it does to purchase a home. Skin in the game sure helps when it comes to perspective. My family has patronized a daycare facility located very close to ground zero and I don’t think that any of the concerned staff or parents associated with this facility are wrong either.

Unless the social justice warriors chirping about NIMBY can actually find a residential neighborhood that want’s Big Momma’s House, and I challenge them to produce it if they can, there is an obvious, albeit imperfect, solution to all of this — relocate Big Momma’s House to someplace besides a residential neighborhood as the Journal recommended in a recent editorial.

I know that a non-residential zone is not ideal for transitional housing, but neither is cramming something like this down the throats of people who’s only personal failing was lacking prescience when purchasing their home in what they thought was a quiet neighborhood.

Of course zoning laws (and those who enforce them) are supposed to render prescience in this regard moot, but there I go being silly again.

Associated Press and Idaho Press Club award-winning columnist Martin Hackworth of Pocatello is a physicist, writer, consultant and retired Idaho State University faculty member who now spends his time happily raising three children, llama farming and riding mountain bikes and motorcycles.

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