NOPE does mean no, but BANANA is not necessarily a fruit

NOPE does mean no, but BANANA is not necessarily a fruit

I have been a conflict resolution professional for just over twenty-five years.  My most memorable cases have been land use/environmental cases, usually convened at the behest of local governments and involving multiple parties and factions.  To be a successful mediator in this arena, one needs to be aware of the significance of four acronyms.  Their influence on the beginning of a mediation (when it is actually convened, or not), as it progresses and when it ends cannot be ignored.

The first of these is the most well-known: NIMBY – Not in My Back Yard.  Any proposed change in land use can be controversial to potential neighbors.  Jurisdictions usually set a limit for potentially affected parties (e.g., 500 feet from the boundary), but residents in the area may see their “back yard” as being much larger than the one defined by the controlling local government.  Even if these neighbors see the use as being one that is generally beneficial to the public at large (e.g., a household hazardous waste collection facility), they will usually say that there must be a better place than the one proposed.  NIMBY is often a result of a fear of declining property values or quality of life due to the proposed project.

The second of these is NIMTOO – Not in My Term of Office.  This one applies to the decision-makers (e.g., city councils, county commissioners, etc.).  No elected official likes to be involved with high-profile, contentious decisions on his/her watch.  When win-lose decisions are made (yes, we will allow a landfill one mile from a housing development), the losers will likely remember in the next election.  However, the freshness of memory declines with time, and hard, unpopular decisions are more likely to be made by these folks early in their term of office.  Therefore, it is to the opponents’ advantage to delay, delay, delay, especially if they privately think that the proposed land use change is lawful.  I have seen late-term denials that would have been early-term approvals.

The third of these acronyms is BANANA – Build Almost Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.  This is common among folks who are focused on land preservation above all else.  The concept of shared use, buffer zones and/or minimizing impacts is lost on them.  Although they will enter into negotiations, the eventual goal is preservation of the land in question as it is (e.g., wildlife habitat, open space, etc.) or even moving land from a more disturbed condition (an abandoned factory) to a less disturbed condition (open space).  Thus, a proposal to turn acreage blighted by old, crumbling buildings into a modern office park would not be acceptable, no matter how much landscaping was planned.

Last, but not least, is NOPE – Not on Planet Earth.  This point of view is typically advocated by people who have moved beyond BANANA.  Mankind is often seen as a blight upon the planet (an argument that is not totally without merit, if extreme), and any increase in our footprint is something to be fought.  Like the folks who advocate for BANANA, they are not necessarily neighbors of the proposed project.  Their issues go beyond the narrow confines of NIMBY, because their backyard is much larger, in this case the whole world.  Consultants for NIMBY groups (homeowners associations near the proposed project, for example) may don this mantle to increase their impact.  Advocates for national groups may move into negotiations with this point of view, caring not about the individual proposal and its impacts, but more about the overarching issue of preserving the planet.

A mediator must, to maintain credibility, treat all of these groups under these acronymic banners with an equal amount of respect.  Their concerns are no less real and credible than those of the people advocating for the land use change (land owners, consultants, developers, attorneys – but more about them in a later article).  These acronyms are meant to clarify the groups of people commonly seen in these disputes, not to trivialize them.  Even if they are not directly at the table (like the elected officials worrying about NIMTOO), their shadow hovers nearby.  If they are at the table, an analysis of their motives will help any mediator better assist everyone involved in the mediation in reaching an agreement that seems equitable to all.

Mark S. Loye, Conflict Resolution Consultant
Mediation Works 2, L.L.C.
Associate, OvalOptions