Community Character Act would allow more federal intrusion in local planning
Jim Jeffords wants to run your local zoning
how come we haven't heard more about an effort to ram through something
called the Community Character
Act? "Senate Democrats," the Washington Times reported,
"barred the public from a committee meeting and vote on a land-use
bill that opponents believe will impose federal standards on local
zoning boards." First the meeting was moved to an obscure room from
which the public is generally barred; then Sen. James Jeffords, over
Republican objections, tried to move the package through the Environment
and Public Works Committee, which he chairs, on a voice vote.
Community Character Act would intrude the federal government deeply into
the zoning process, one of local government's most important
prerogatives. A federal grant program would pay communities 90% of the
cost of updating local zoning regulations in order to "improve
environmental policy," "promote social equity" and avert
"loss of community character."
history serves as a guide, the voluntary grant program would soon enough
become mandatory. The environment, after all, is too important to be
left to the mercies of developers. And indeed, the Community Character
Act can be seen as the opening wedge of the old Al Gore "livable
communities" initiative that in turn reflects the desires of the
"smart growth" movement.
mid-February the American Planning Association, working on a grant from
the Housing and Urban Development department under Clinton-Gore, issued
a "Growing Smart" legislature guide, seven years in the
making, that purports to offer model codes for communities looking to
control development. In the 1920s, the APA points out, a similar
document put forward model development codes that led to the zoning
systems so common now across the country.
zoning mechanism at least was confined to decision-making by local
government. And, ironically, critics of sprawl frequently complain that
zoning has actually served to squeeze out the "community
character" that they claim to want. They complain that most
American communities are little more than cookie-cutter developments
whose main characteristic is the single-family home on a gridlock
pattern of streets with no community center at all.
you would think the smart-growth set might be wary of new formulas being
imposed on regions and localities by all those wise and wonderful folks
in Washington. Will the planners and their friends in Congress (the
Community Character Act requires communities to "consult and
cooperate" with nonprofit organizations--such as the APA) really
get it right this time? Or might not the market forces and local
democracy, if left to themselves, more effectively produce some true
character on the American urban and exurban scene?
after all, already are rushing to supply the environmental amenities
that an increasingly affluent nation is demanding. Cluster housing with
set-asides for open space is one example. And even as voters in Colorado
and Arizona were rejecting grandiose land-use planning measures in the
2000 elections, they were endorsing record sales of bonds for local
parks and recreational facilities. And that's as it should be. If people
in a certain area want more environmental amenities, they should pay for
of course Al Gore, Jim Jeffords and the like aren't really interested in
"community character." They are interested in controlling
growth by making it difficult and expensive for average citizens to live
the American dream--a house of their own on a plot of land in a decently
run community. The only community character they want is a community
free of people exercising their own choices about what the good life
one reason they applauded last week's Supreme Court decision declaring
that temporary moratoriums on growth don't necessarily constitute
"takings" for which property owners must be compensated. A
moratorium is the perfect process tool for no-growthers. It allows them
to hamstring development without cost.
what is the vision that animates the "Growing Smart"
guidelines that served as a basis for the Senate bill? The Sierra Club
last year conducted an exercise in which it attempted to define the
optimum density for American cities. It came up with a figure of 500
families per acre. As economist Randal O'Toole of the Thoreau Institute
has pointed out, this is roughly twice the density of the densest parts
of Manhattan--on a par with the densest cities of Asia.
with this observation, the Sierra Club quietly backed off, reducing its
density recommendation sharply. Likewise, now that Senate Democrats have
been caught trying to foist a federal zoning system on America in
secret, it may back off too. The Bush administration has announced
opposition to the idea. But the mere existence of a "Community
Character Act" tells you that the smart-growthers are making
serious inroads--and aren't likely to go away.
2002 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref. http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml]