More housing may be built in Grand Island, but not everyone is happy

More housing may be built in Grand Island, but not everyone is happy

A typical zoning hearing in Grand Island shows some of the challenges Nebraska faces in addressing its housing shortage. People will acknowledge more housing is needed, but many current homeowners don’t want new housing to be located near their properties, particularly if it requires changes in zoning that alters the type or style of housing to which existing residents are accustomed.

Here’s video of public comments from Central Nebraska’s largest (and growing) city, where neighbors objected to converting a portion of a large lot originally zoned for a single residence to build six row-house style single-family homes.

Many property owners believe that zoning, which is local government regulation that permits how certain parcels of land can be used, is an asset to their property values, property rights, and their peace of mind.

However, as with all government regulation, there is a point at which zoning can fundamentally undercut property rights and economic liberties. Homeowners who adopt a “Not In My Back Yard” attitude, whether they realize it or not, are trying to claim a greater right to decide what happens to adjacent properties than the person who actually owns it.

While there is an argument for regulations that prevent completely incompatible uses of land based on health or safety, there really isn’t a lot of merit to the idea that the local government’s job is to protect existing homeowners from having neighbors, arbitrarily restricting how many people can live in a neighborhood in a metropolitan area—which is what Grand Island is these days—or making people happy about their desired aesthetics for housing they don’t own.

If the city had rejected this proposed zoning change (it approved it), and only one house could be built on this relatively large lot, that would be five fewer families that could access the city’s housing market.

The wider impact these policies can have on cities is part of the reason the Legislature approved LB866 this year, to encourage large and medium-sized cities like Grand Island to adopt affordable housing action plans that take into account how they will reform policies including zoning, to meet their growing housing needs.

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