As a participant in Maine’s Top Gun program for entrepreneurs, I was part of a discussion about determining the balance between business activities and home life. But something has happened in my private life that has me thinking about a three-way rather than a two-way balance. As a businessperson, how do I balance my responsibility to my community and neighbors with my responsibilities to my personal life and my responsibility to succeed in my business, or earn a living and provide a living for my employees?
What started me thinking about three-way balance is a new quarry that has just been permitted to open near where I live in Bangor. While my property doesn’t actually abut the quarry, I live near enough to be affected by the noise and to worry about property values and possible damage to my foundation, well and septic system from the blasting. As a property owner, I look at the danger to my lifestyle with alarm. As a business owner, I wonder what I would do in the same situation.
On the one hand, the quarry provides the owners and the employees with income, provides the city with tax revenue and provides construction sites with necessary materials close at hand.
On the other hand, those of us who live nearby may pay a heavy price. An economist at Auburn University has done a survey of property values near gravel quarries. The property value of homes near quarries can fall as much as 30 percent. Average listing price for a home in Bangor right now is about $175,000. So if I bought my house now for that amount, it could be worth up to $50,000 less the day the quarry opens for business. That’s a big hit for one homeowner to take.
In my area of Bangor, city water is not available. If my well is compromised, that’s another $15,000-20,000, with the danger of incurring another $15,000-$20,000 every time the quarry blasts. There’s the possibility of foundation damage, which is also expensive to fix. While in theory the quarry operators are liable for any resulting damage, in practice I’m told they rarely have to pay. Is it right for a business owner to profit at such a significant cost to a small group of homeowners who just happen to have the misfortune to already be living in the area?
It’s hard for one or a few homeowners to protest an industrial development, especially one in a rural-residential zone where the population density is low. The costs for a legal challenge are hard for individuals to bear, whereas businesses generally have deeper pockets for paying lawyers. Fortunately, there is a community body, the Bangor city council, charged with regulating the balance between its residents and industrial interests. Bangor’s city charter says that quarries must not be seriously detrimental to the neighborhood in which they are located.
Homeowners who abut the proposed new quarry certainly feel the quarry is seriously detrimental, $60,000-$100,000 worth of detrimental. The noise alone will be very disruptive, especially to those with a home-based business, also permitted under the zoning regulations.
The noise from a different quarry has already disrupted one home-based business based on the quintessentially rural farm activity of raising animals. How does a city councilor value the increased worth of the quarry versus the decreased worth of other home-based businesses in the area? How does a councilor balance the increased worth of the quarry versus the loss of the rural and agricultural character of the neighborhood? How does a city councilor balance the increased worth of the quarry versus the financial well-being, the comfort and the happiness of its residents?
Everything’s a balance.
Nancy Kravit is chief executive scientist of Tethys Research LLC and adjunct professor of chemical engineering at the University of Maine.