Skip to comments.In Towns That Slowed Growth, Backlash Stirs
Posted on 02/08/2003 7:16:03 PM PST by GeneD
ERIE, Colo., Feb. 5 As a bruising recall campaign ended here this week, Mayor Barbara Connors was still in office and her policies to slow the growth of this old mining town northwest of Denver were intact.
Yet the battle to save her political life and beat back overdevelopment was only the latest of a small but growing number of conflicts around the country over so-called slow-growth policies. Such policies were all the rage in recent decades, when rampant growth was viewed as a bad thing, but their supporters are not having an easy time of it in the current economic downturn.
In December, departing members of the Habersham County Commission in Clarksville, Ga., upset that their successors favored slow-growth policies, passed a motion to eliminate the county planning commission, land-use plans and the building inspection program. A judge later reinstated them.
This week in Loudoun County, Va., a burgeoning Washington suburb, more than 150 lawsuits were filed against the county by people who oppose its growth-control policies.
In Colorado, where the economy has sagged for two years, several small towns eager to spur development and increase the local tax base are turning away from growth restrictions. It is a fundamental shift from the booming 1990's, when job growth, housing prices and incomes soared and towns began putting limits on growth to preserve the quality of life that was attracting so many new residents.
In the last few years, voters in at least three towns have rejected proposals to limit growth. The next big fight is coming in Berthoud, an agricultural town of 4,800 about 45 miles north of Denver, where local officials are reviewing a petition to remove a 5 percent growth cap that voters have approved three times in the last three years. The town board may adopt the proposed change or let voters decide in a special election.
Stuart Meck, senior research fellow for the American Planning Association, a group of city planners and officials, said the pro-growth forces had not yet sparked a national trend. But challenging slow-growth plans, he said, is not always a bad idea.
"As economies change, systems need to be evaluated," he said. "You can't assume metropolitan economies are static. The reason to enact something when the economy is at Point A may not hold up over the long term."
Environmentalists say that lowering the obstacles to scattershot development could easily produce ugly sprawl, cookie-cutter subdivisions and environmental degradation.
"This is very shortsighted," said Elise Jones, executive director of the Colorado Environmental Council, a nonprofit coalition of 85 conservation groups. "In Colorado, the job market follows workers, and long-term economic vitality is tied to the protection of our quality of life. When you lose things that draw people to Colorado, you lose your economy."
In some places, that notion has been a difficult sell. Sam Mamet, associate director of the Colorado Municipal League, said the sluggish economy, combined with a persistent drought, was creating difficult choices for many towns. While some are acting, he said, others are waiting it out. "It's a mixed bag," he said, "but an increasing number of communities are looking at how they can expand their local economics and relax previously adopted policies."
The effort in Berthoud, where the population has doubled since 1980, illustrates the problem's complexities. Jeff Hindman, a homebuilder from Boulder who is leading the campaign for change, said Berthoud's fiscal problems almost demand a new approach to development.
In 2000, the town issued a record 104 building permits. Late that year, voters approved the annual cap on new permits to 5 percent of the number of existing homes. Mr. Hindman said that the cap created uncertainty for builders, making it harder to secure financing for new projects.
As a result, the town issued just 21 housing permits in 2001 and 8 in 2002. Not surprisingly, tax revenues from the permits fell, forcing town officials to cut the budget each of the last two years and impose a $38 surcharge on water bills to help pay for a new treatment plant.
Karen Stockley, a Sierra Club member who led the campaign for the cap, said removing it would destroy Berthoud's rural ambience and put added strains on local services. Already, she said, the new water treatment plant will be operating at capacity within two years.
"Berthoud is very much a small town; that's the attraction, that's why a lot of people have moved here," she said, adding that builders were "twisting the truth" when they talk about uncertain financing, pointing out that builders did not even apply for the permits that were available. "Not a single developer was denied a permit," she said.
Similar issues were debated in the effort to recall Ms. Connors in Erie, a rural town of 8,500 about 20 miles south of Berthoud. A campaign financed by developers sought to remove her and another town official, charging that they "abandoned Erie's efforts to secure economic development," as the recall ballots read. In the voting on Tuesday, Ms. Connors survived by a 1,065-to-874 vote and her colleague, Paul Carter, by 1,057 to 866.
Ms. Connors, a former teacher and school administrator from Manhattan, said her policies made sense for a town of Erie's size, which is straining town services. She echoed complaints in Berthoud that developers were more interested in outlying residential projects than commercial projects in town that would add more to the town tax base.
"We've been growing too much, too fast," she said. "I'm particularly concerned about pressures on our infrastructure. Citizens here want to run the town for their own benefit, not developers'."
Isn't this the crux of the matter? People want a small twon to grow so that they can live there? Where is the logic in this? If you move there and thousands other move there, it's not going to be a small town very long. ???? Can anyone explain this to me?
Why do people want to live in a "small town" and then allow it to become a big town? Why not just move to a big town or a city? Why shouldn't small town people want to keep their town small if the reason they like living there is the smallness? Makes sense to me.
I think the real question is: Why should folks be able to move someplace of their choice, and then slam the door to anyone else who cares to join them? The latest person to arrive has just as much right to move there as does the previous person, as long as someone wants to sell them a piece of land to build on.
I agree. It's mystifying. What bugs me even more, though, is the people who move out to the deep country and then get upset because it's a long way to the nearest Blockbuster, supermarket, high-volume pharmacy, mall, Jiffy-Lube, KFC, Burger King, etc. They think they want to live in the country and then get hysterical when the cattle moo at four in the morning or country dogs bark at the coyotes. So they try to bring all that suburban crap out into the sticks and then get hysterical when they're once again surrounded by suburban sprawl. Again, yuppie scum are not self-sufficient small-town or rural dwellers who want to lead their own independent lives, but liberals who want all the comforts of urban life supplied to them by government policy.
Snob zoning means "any land use that's more expensive than you can afford."
I've always wondered about the tax issue - you would think that the economy of scale would allow a more populated area to supply services at a cheaper per-capita rate, but it doesn't seem to work that way. I can't explain it.
How can they do that with restrictions on multi-family dwellings that are sure to be the law in Santa Crud...er..Cruz?
Any town stupid enough to have no growth policies will in the long run find itself declining badly. It's just a slower, but still deadly, form of communism.
Winter... 30 to 40 below zero.
Winter... Frost heaves.
Early spring... Spring rains
Spring... Mud season.
Late spring... Black Fly season.
Early summer... Mosquito season.
mid summer... Deer fly season.
Late summer... Horse fly season.
Mosquito hatches after rains throughout these seasons.
Mid fall... Fall rains.
Late fall to early winter and mud season: Tourist season.