Americans are twice as likely to oppose new real estate development projects as they are to support them, according to a recent nationwide poll, and they are more likely to oppose quarries, casinos, landfills and big-box retail than single-family homes and grocery stores.

Those surveyed said they are most often opposed because of traffic and quality-of-life concerns and will use the political process to protect their neighborhoods from unwanted development, according to the poll on land-use issues conducted for The Saint Consulting Group, which specializes in the politics of contested neighborhood development projects.

The survey, called The Saint Index, interviewed 1,000 people and was performed during October and November 2005 by the Center for Economic and Civic Opinion, University of Massachusetts/Lowell.

“Rather than seeing growth and development as the time-honored stimulus to local and regional economies, the 21st-century issue is about who controls growth and development,” said Patrick Fox, president of The Saint Consulting Group. “Our survey shows that the American public is far more sophisticated about planning and zoning than we thought…The most staggering number to me is that one in five families has actively opposed a project.”

According to Fox, developers in 2006 will need to address the question of where businesses are to locate and build structures for jobs if 83 percent of citizens prefer their neighborhoods as they are.

The Saint Index forecasts growing grassroots fights against growth and development. “By inference, competitive opposition to other developers’ projects will be contested in far more sophisticated ways in the future,” Fox said.

“If ‘all politics is local,’ The Saint Index confirms that all land use has become political,” he said. “It has become an adversarial system being played out. What this means to developers is that traditionally business-oriented political leaders may no longer automatically favor all development projects.”

Highlights from the poll included:

  • About 73 percent of respondents said their community was fine the way it is or over-developed, while about 83 percent of suburban respondents said they do not want new development in their communities.

  • Respondents indicated they are fighting back in land-use battles across the nation, educating themselves about how local planning and zoning decisions are made, and how they can make their own impact on these decisions.

  • More than 60 percent believe the planning system is failing them, saying their local government does a fair-to-poor job on planning and zoning issues. Seventy percent believe that relationships between elected officials and developers render the approval process unfair.

  • Wal-Mart is OK, just not in my backyard. A majority of Americans are happy to shop at Wal-Mart but do not want to be affected by the many impacts commonly associated with the superstores. While neighborhood groups may fight Wal-Mart, some real estate projects generate even more vehement opposition.

  • About 75 percent of respondents said they support single-family housing development, and 63 percent support grocery stores.

  • Ninety-three percent of respondents indicated a political candidate’s position on new development is an important factor in their voting decision. The level of importance placed on a candidate’s position on growth rises with age, as does the propensity of a person to vote. This correlation dramatically increases the political importance of growth and development as a key political issue.

  • Opposition to the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision is strong and growing. Opposition to allowing eminent domain use in taking private property has grown to 81 percent in November from 68 percent in the July 2005 American Survey.

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Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to jessica@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 133.

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