'Smart growth' plan's perils

F. Patricia Callahan- Washington Times

    4/3/02 -  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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