Sure, you can build it – just not in my backyard

NIMBY: A person who objects to the siting of something perceived as unpleasant in their own neighbourhood.

NIMBY: A person who objects to the siting of something perceived as unpleasant in their own neighbourhood.


I’ve encountered plenty of NIMBYs in more than a quarter-century in this business. Vancouver Island seems to be particularly full of them (surely one reason it’s often hard to get things done in various communities).

Sometimes, the scenario will unfold like this: City announces intent to construct social housing project.

“Hey, Martha. Did you read this thing about social housing? I think that’s just great.”

“Keep reading. They’re building it just down the street from us.”

“Wait, what? Grab the pitchforks. I’ll round up a posse. They can’t do this. What a stupid idea. We can’t have people like that in our neighbourhood.”

Or like this:

“Hey, Martha. I see the city is going to build a rec centre for teens. I think that’s just great.”

“Keep reading. They’re building it just down the street from us.”

“Wait, what? Grab the pitchforks. I’ll round up a posse. They can’t do this. What a stupid idea. We can’t have noisy hoodlums rampaging through our neighbourhood.”

Note that to a large extent, I understand this. People purchase a home in a neighbourhood for very specific reasons. If something threatens to upset that apple cart, there is always going to be pushback. That’s how the system works.

If you’re going to put in a (legal) marijuana-growing operation or a cellphone tower; a business complex or even a lemonade stand, there’s always going to be opposition. People, don’t like change — especially in their own backyards.

And complaining works. It’s a proven strategy, especially when dealing with politicians at the community level.

I can recall a longtime elected official (up-Island) who was a veritable windsock.

He’d tell you to your face that such-and-such project was absolutely his top priority for the community. Then four grumpy types would phone to express their opposition, and there he’d be at the next council meeting, passionately arguing against the project. Then the next week, he’d hint again that it was a good idea. And on and on. He got elected a bunch of times, but precious little got done.

Some of my favourite complainers were new residents who purchased homes near an airport, then called me all the time to moan about the noise and demand we do stories on the issue.  The all-time champ was a neighbour of my own. It wasn’t mega-project related, but he apparently had hyper-sensitive, Superman hearing.

A whisper to most of us was I guess like a thrash-metal concert in his head. Little children would be drawing with sidewalk chalk in their driveways, and he’d be out there asking everyone to pipe down. He actually called the bylaws officer because the overflow ‘drip, drip, drip’ sound from the rain gutter of the house next door was too loud.

Interestingly, it was that fellow (we moved years ago, I imagine he’s still there, demanding butterflies stop flapping their wings so loudly) who popped into my head as I follow the saga of residents talking to North Cowichan council about noise at the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit.

One resident told the Citizen it was an “ear-opening” experience on the track’s opening day.

Now, I can only speak for myself, but I was there on opening day, and I didn’t find it loud — at all.

Even when I was right beside the track as cars went past, I was able to engage in a regular-voice conversation with the person next to me. From the parking lot, the cars sounded like buzzing bees.

As I was walking to my vehicle, a back-to-back pair of logging trucks whizzed by on the highway, and I actually found them louder than any vehicle on the track. But again, that’s just me.

Perhaps the noises get more annoying as you get further away, or they’re magnified as the sound waves bounce off the mountains. Where’s Bill Nye the Science Guy when you need him?

One resident said he recorded the noise at his front door at 85 decibels. Now (and again, this is just me thinking out loud here), if you have a noise-recording device ready on opening day, aren’t you kind of spoiling for a fight? And what does 85 dB mean? Is that all day? One time? A quick check online shows me a telephone dial tone is 80 dB. Truck traffic is 90 dB.

This isn’t a ‘racetrack’ in the sense of Western Speedway or the old Cassidy Speedway. There’s not 24 claimers roaring around the circuit at once, drivers hoping for a quick smooch from the trophy gal at the end. It’s a racing track, where folks with way more money than me get to test drive their Porsches and Ferraris, in single file.

Municipal officials said a staff report (tentatively set to be available sometime in August) will be prepared on the issue.

This is fair.

Step one in the process of figuring out whether it’s just predictable pushback or an actual problem.

Philip Wolf is a regional editor for Black Press. He can be reached at philip.wolf@black

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