'Smart growth' plan's perils

F. Patricia Callahan

      April 16, 2002 - Scant attention has been paid to legislation currently working its way
through Congress that would institute a $250 million grant program to
federalize no-growth (euphemistically called "smart growth") regulations
nationwide. The result would be devastating for small property investors,
both urban and rural.
      "The Community Character Act" - Senate Bill 975, House Bill 1433 -
would require local governments to implement land management plans using
model "smart growth" statutes provided in a 2,000-page "Legislative
Guidebook" developed during the Clinton Administration by the American
Planning Association, a no-growth trade organization, with almost $2 million
in HUD grant money.
      Despite giving lip service to the idea that land use planning is
rightfully a state and local government function, the CCA undeniably
represents a top-down approach to land use management. The legislation will
use our tax dollars to create a multitude of jobs for APA members, who will
be free to promote their no-growth agenda nationwide.
      Re. Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican, is so concerned about the CCA that
his House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution recently held
an oversight hearing on the guidebook "and its potential impact on property
rights and small business, including minority-owned businesses."
      AMA's Stuart Meck, the guidebook's primary author, told the
subcommittee that in 1994, when the project began, the AMA sent out memos to
150 groups. It would be interesting to see that list, since those who have
the most at risk were completely shut out of the development process. Career
environmental groups were consulted, but property rights associations didn't
even know about the guidebook until a few months ago. No black or other
minority associations were consulted, according to Harry Alford, president
and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, who told the House
subcommittee that the CCA would be devastating for minority businesses.
      On March 6, 2002, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee,
chaired by Sen. James Jeffords, Vermont Independent, also held a hearing on
the CCA. When AASPO heard about the hearing, we immediately called and
requested to testify. We were totally rebuffed, and were told that the
National Multi-Housing Council and several other trade associations had been
invited to testify.
      Unfortunately, the National Multi-Housing Council supports the CCA, as
does the National Association of Realtors. The only trade organization that
testified in opposition is the National Association of Home Builders.
      The only other person whom Mr. Jeffords allowed to speak against the
CCA was David Sampson, the Commerce Department's assistant secretary of
economic development - the very agency that would administer the "smart
growth" grants under the Senate bill.
      Mr. Sampson said the Bush administration does not support the
legislation, calling it "a centralized approach to land use planning."
Instead, he called for locally devised plans that are "market-based."
Although he gave several examples, it is questionable whether the good
senators understand what "market-based" means.
      All in all, the Senate hearing was like watching a horror movie. Seeing
the issues threaded throughout, such as "pedestrian-oriented," creating
statutes to preserve "vistas and views," and "affordable housing," makes it
quite clear that this is just the tip of the iceberg. This type of
regulation invariably makes life so miserable for small property owners that
they eventually give up. The result is abandoned buildings that give the
city justification to come in and bulldoze the area, clearing the way for
big developers to come in and put up high-density high-rises. Some would
call this the "unintended consequence" of "smart growth." Others believe
this is exactly the intent.
      Land use involves tough issues, fought out on the local level. It is an
exercise in democracy which can at times become very contentious. The
intervention of the federal government in land use matters, whether directly
or through a funding mechanism, will allow ideologues to exercise undue
influence in the process - and thereby disenfranchise local private property
owners. The "Community Character Act" must be defeated in order to save the
individual characters of our communities.

      F. Patricia Callahan, an attorney, is the founder and president of the
American Association of Small Property Owners (AASPO).


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