Coming to your town: Comprehensive planning

By Don Casey
for eco-logic


Comprehensive planning, the policy statement for future development and redevelopment for communities, is moving across Alabama and gaining momentum. Birmingham, Athens, and Cullman have adopted, or are in the process of adopting, an official "comprehensive plan." Residents of Alabama have the advantage of reading first hand accounts from communities in other parts of the country that have developed and officially adopted their "plans," and are now forced to live with the "implementation ordinances." The following is from an Oregon reader describing what "central planning/comprehensive planning" has done for his community.

"Regionalism exists around Portland, which is 370 miles from where I live. We live in a different time zone, and have no media connection to the Portland area. I do know that they have combined some counties, and formed a regional taxing and planning zone, with elected regional government. It probably exists elsewhere in the state, but to lesser degrees. Land use planning and light rail transportation coordination were used as the grab issues in Portland. They have the most restrictive laws in the nation, I believe. They have planned communities that kind of put all the peons in their place, while the kings live in the penthouses. They have priced most people out of homes, and created a mammoth need for public housing. All part of the game, I suppose."

"I live in a remote part of the state. There have been regional committees formed for economic development; there are some mutual support regions for public safety issues, and there are education regions, of which Oregon has nine, I believe. Funds flow from the state to the regions to individual school districts. Local school boards only do what they are told to do, and handle personnel matters. There is no local control at all. The school board is actually an enforcer of regional and state policy."

"It all started with the land use laws passed in 1973. It took a couple years for the laws to be implemented, and to get the local governments to comply with them. In thirty years, I've been in court three times over land use issues, and have lost each time, once having taken my case all the way to the top cop in the state."

"Not only do we have serious restrictions on urban growth; farmland cannot be divided. Only one dwelling allowed on a farm, unless the other housing is for farm laborers. A farm is only a farm, if it can produce $80,000 in revenue - this figure changes each year. There are acreage restrictions. One house per 160 acres unless it is rangeland, in which case, it is one residence per 360 acres. These are general terms, because when local planning officials and boards get hold of an issue, they always make use as restrictive as the law allows, rather than interpret the laws to grant the owner the greater use and value of their land. Appeals take years, and can cost tens of thousand of dollars. More recently, they have made appeal possible by e-mail, because of time distance from our side of the state to the capital. However, I know of no one who has successfully appealed a decision by a local board."

"I'm hoping for a change, if our economy continues to sour. If it gets bad enough that the politicians start to suffer, I'm thinking there might be some changes."

"To say regionalism is Communism is probably correct. It could be said that Oregon is Communism, as well."

Alabama residents would do well to listen to this voice of experience.



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