What’s Going On: NIMBY halts business move

NIMBY.

Ever hear of it? It’s one of my favorite acronyms: Not In My Backyard.

It’s a phrase/acronym that recently surfaced in Marshall after residents there launched a successful grassroots campaign to block a new business from opening in town.

A dog treat company based out of New Hampshire was looking at relocating to Marshall and filling one of the town’s largest vacant buildings, a former grocery store.

The owner was going to invest a substantial amount of money to buy and remodel the building which had sat empty for four years. The owner wasn’t asking the city for any kind of financial investment whether in the form of a grant, loan, tax credit or infrastructure improvement.

What he did ask for, because he had to, was a conditional use permit.

The city’s planning and zoning board approved his request by a 4-2 vote but not without controversy. More than 50 residents showed up complaining about the prospect of unwelcomed odors and increased traffic from the new business that was expected to employ about 30 people.

In the two weeks between that vote and a city council meeting in which the request would have to receive final approval, city officials determined there were no odor issues as the owner had promised and as verified by neighboring businesses in New Hampshire. And as for the increased traffic, that was regarded as a frivolous complaint. Obviously, a grocery store, between customers and shipments, would have had much more traffic when it was open.

As such, Marshall’s city council members were ready to grant the permit and allow the sale of the building to go through, paving the way for exactly what I urged a few weeks ago: a creative, unique use for our big, vacant buildings that previously housed retail locations.

That vote would never take place, though, as also in that two weeks, some of those residents who complained at the zoning board meeting were able to take their campaign one step further. They called employees in New Hampshire. They called the owner’s bank requesting information. They circulated fliers containing misinformation.

And most importantly, they made the owner feel unwelcomed.

Sure, we’d love to have new business and industry in town they claimed.

But NIMBY.

So surprise, surprise, the company owner granted their wish. The plant wouldn’t be in their backyard. In fact, it wouldn’t be in their town at all as the owner withdrew the request and said he was going to go someplace where he was wanted.

I doubt that will be too hard to find as most, although clearly not all, towns have big empty buildings and will be at least somewhat accommodating to work with him, or anyone, who can fill it with a viable business that brings jobs and generates tax revenues.

In fact, as I recall, New Ulm still has a big vacant building on the south end of town that used to house a retail store.

The owner of the company, Chasing Our Tails, is Steve Trachtenberg. A well placed phone call and a warm greeting might do wonders for him right now as he’s probably wondering about that “Minnesota Nice” he’s heard so much about.

One thing is for certain: he’s very familiar with NIMBY.

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Gregory Orear is the publisher of The Journal. His award-winning weekly column, “What’s Going On,” has been published in four newspapers in three states for more than 20 years. He can be contacted at gorear@nujournal.com.

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