Jack Marshall e-mailed me today, responding to and expanding on my recent blog entry about Melanie Scarborough’s take on sprawl. Jack’s the president of Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population, though he’s previously served as chair of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority, and directed social science research in family planning for the World Health Organization in Geneva. In short, he’s way smarter than I am. I reproduce here, with Jack’s permission, his response.
Though most of the Cato Institute’s views about population growth fall into that new class of ideas defined by Judge John Jones in his ruling about Intelligent Design — breathtaking inanities — Scarboro’s last three short sentences that Waldo quotes are, in fact, correct: New roads DO invite development. Development DOES attract new residents, who create traffic jams. And if you build the roads, they WILL come.
The larger issue Waldo raises, and the one well worth discussing, is whether localities in Virginia have, and should have, the power — the legal tools — to deal with local growth as the affected communities think appropriate. It’s more than simply the ability (or, currently, the inability) of a local government to insist on adequate public facilities (APF) before new developments are constructed. Localities in Virginia may not decide for themselves to impose realistic impact fees on new developments, to require that developments include affordable units, to cap the amount of new development that can take place each year, to require developers to provide “community impact statements,” to impose a “real estate transfer tax” (like a sales tax) to raise revenue to pay for growth, etc.
Tim Kaine, who in his campaign for governor expressed support for APF legislation, may also be willing to give localities other powers to deal with growth. Here’s what ASAP wrote to him on Dec. 27:
On behalf of Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population, I am writing to express enthusiastic support for your plan to grant localities more control over local growth and development issues. We applaud the foresight, understanding, and courage your position reflects, particularly in the face of the opposition it will arouse from the powerful minority who profit from growth.
ASAP is a grass-roots non-profit organization concerned that population growth in Albemarle County (and other counties in Central Virginia) is eroding our quality of life, damaging our environment, and raising our taxes. Through education, research, advocacy, and policy development, ASAP is working to slow local growth and development, and to introduce the notion that each community should try to define and level off at its “optimal” size population. Too often we are told by local officials that their hands are tied by the state, and that little can be done to effectively control the pace of growth.
Like you, we believe that localities must have the ability to democratically determine what is in their best interest concerning growth. Like you, we view this as pure common sense.
In this regard we hope you will support (at least) two significant changes in the balance of power between the Commonwealth of Virginia and its constituent localities:
1. We endorse your efforts to permit local authorities throughout the state to use a wider range of tools to respond to growth in ways defined by thoughtful and informed local residents. It is unconscionable that Virginia localities do not have the blanket authority to require Adequate Public Facilities to be in place before new developments are constructed, for example, or to impose reasonable impact fees on developers, to create programs encouraging the transfer of development rights, etc. Those of us who have the good fortune to live in Virginia’s communities should not be required to pay for infrastructure improvements to allow future population growth that, in turn, we know will reduce the quality of our communities.
2. In addition to the explicit authority you would grant to local governments to provide for adequate public facilities, we would encourage you to add a provision to the state laws authorizing local planning and zoning that would limit the application of the Dillon rule in these local government policy sectors. We recognize that the so-called Dillon rule as a judicial standard may make sense in some areas of state-local relations, but it is destructive to reasonable local government flexibility in managing local growth. Unless there is clear arbitrary and capricious use of local powers, the courts should recognize that managing growth is an area where localities should be encouraged to innovate because of the threats to local community welfare and harmony.
Thank you for making the issue of local population growth a focus of your campaign and your first days as Governor. We will eagerly follow your progress in empowering local communities by giving city and county decision-makers the tools to grapple more effectively with these issues.
Now I’ll have to help Jack figure out blogs, so he can post comments or maybe, one day, write on a blog of his own creation.