BOSTON (TheStreet) -- A lot of blame is being passed around for the nation's devastatingly high jobless rate.
Politicians aren't doing enough, many say. Taxes are too high. Health insurance and its reform initiatives are too expensive. Pending legislation intended to boost job creation doesn't go far enough.
A culprit that seldom gets much of the blame is your own neighbors and local officials.
Across the country, in the name of zoning, community aesthetics and far more parochial concerns, business proposals are scrutinized ad nauseum, often delaying them or killing the plans outright.
There is no shortage of
, large and small, fighting against what they see as the blight of "big box" retailers such as
. Complaints range from traffic congestion, comparatively low wages, the impact on nearby businesses, whether it would cause teens to "gather" and the overall "fit" for their community.
has joined in on the fight.
"Big box stores like Wal-Mart threaten our landscape, our communities and the environment by building on the fringe of town, paving vast areas for stores and parking lots, and undermining the economic health of existing downtown shopping areas," a section of its website reads.
Beyond such organized campaigns, individual civic associations often wage smaller, more parochial battles.
Many of these neighborhood groups are, at their core, dedicated to policing encroaching development and maintaining a balance between businesses and the residents they affect. These groups, though not elected, typically wield strong influence over those who are. They are frequently the first and best line of defense against suburban sprawl, institutional expansion and streetscapes overrun by
Family Dollar Stores
It isn't uncommon, however, to see personal prejudices override these broader concerns. In doing so, community activists can be directly responsible for stunting job creation.
Among the head-scratching arguments against businesses we've encountered were a coffee shop that was denied a request to add an acoustic guitarist two nights a week. "I don't understand why anyone would want to listen to music at a coffeehouse," declared one woman, who apparently never heard of the folk music scene. In another case, a local group withheld their blessing on a proposed Korean barbecue restaurant after two of its older members visited a similar establishment for research. "You cook your own food at the table," one remarked. "Who would want that? We don't need something like that."
In the Boston suburb of Braintree, a former
site on the grounds of a popular mall attracted the interest of
Dave & Buster's
, a national chain that combines dining with a variety of arcade and skill games.
The $12 million project would potentially create more than 200 jobs, many of them full time. Given its location, use of a large and vacant structure, proximity to a highway and boost to the tax base, you might think there would be little to squabble about. You would be wrong.
Months after it was proposed, residents in the area and elected officials are still squabbling over whether it is the right fit for their community. A civic association suggested it could be the catalyst for an increase in crime (an assumption with little evidence to support it). A restriction was put in place, though later amended, that would limit the restaurant to only four games instead of the dozens others in the franchise have onsite. One official, questioning the need for "violent" games, promoted an alternative to the chain's traditional modus operandi -- creating a quiet space where local parents could read to children.
Despite the hold-ups, approval is likely. What could be a final hearing before the local planning board is scheduled for Oct. 4 and, from there, proponents will head to the city's licensing board. In the interim, jobs hang in the balance.
The Dave & Buster's of the world usually have the deep pockets needed to endure delays; small-business owners are often not that lucky. The well-publicized case of the
Retro Arcade Museum
illustrates how local government can squash business plans. Owner Fred Bobrow had set up a storefront in Beacon, N.Y., restoring and displaying vintage arcade games.
Put aside any plans to put up your quarter for a trip down memory lane. The shop recently went out of business after being closed down by town officials. The reason: an almost forgotten ordinance from decades ago that prohibited pinball and similar coin-operated amusements.
The City Council eventually passed an ordinance to soften the restriction, but it was too late to make up for the foot-dragging that bled Bobrow's savings dry. He told the
New York Times
that he has been forced to sell his home as well as the collection.
-- Written by Joe Mont in Boston.
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