Jack Marshall on growth.

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.

Jack Marshall

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.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

2 replies on “Jack Marshall on growth.”

  1. If growth isn’t controlled at the outset, it will no doubt cause problems in the future as I saw it happen in Northern Virginia. I grew up in one of the early developements up their and I was surrounded by wonderful horse farms and country stores, houses and folks. All that is gone, nothing but bedroom communities with no wilderness areas to speak of in sight of my old house near Mt. Vernon. The same thing can happen here unless someone puts their foot down and soon. Either require a severe cost for both the landowner for selling his property to a developer or maybe have a requirement for every property being developed a set amount of land must be left alone or to be a managed wilderness area.
    I hope something can be done and it must happen soon.

  2. “New roads DO invite development. Development DOES attract new residents, who create traffic jams. And if you build the roads, they WILL come.”

    I don’t buy it. We know we are going to have 2 million new residents. Many of them are already jamming all those new high schools we just built.

    They will come whether you build the roads or not.

    People do not create traffic jams, alone, and we can’t eliminate the people. Traffic jams occur when everyone is trying to go to the same place at the same time. They are going there because of certain attractions to that place.

    What needs to happen is to have equivalent attractions in some other place so that not everyone is trying to go to the same place. That means we need more places.

    More places will need more roads to serve them.

    At present, there are more than 12,000 jurisdictions across the U.S. with some sort of growth controls. If local jurisdictions have the ability to stop growth, all that will happen is that it will occur somewhere else. Unless every juridiction has growth control. Since we WILL have those 2million more people universal growth control can’t happen.

    Certainly, there is an optimal population. If you are considering environmental issues that number is probably near zero. If we are serious about having sustainable communities, we should consider becoming Amish, and we should stop nearly every activity we currently engage in. That is unlikely to happen. The alternative is that we recognize that the urban footprint is much larger than the urban area and make plans for pockets of population that are supported by open spaces to provide all the green infrastructure we need.

    Green infrastructure isn’t free. In fact it is equally valuable as developed areas because the developed areas need the space for their footprint. Unfortunately, we have no way to price the land appropriately, and the market values homes more than it values open fields. Mr. Trippel’s idea that “Someone should put their foot down” is completely backward. If you are going to, as he suggests, fine people for selling their land, then they will get out as soon as possible before the situation gets worse.

    If we aren’t willing to pay as much for open space as we pay for development, then we are going to have development. We have an awful lot of people who think we need to save open space, so why is it that we can’t raise the money to buy it? I submit that if you proposed to add 30 cents to the tax rate for the purpose of buying open space, you probably wouldn’t get elected. We are not willing to put our money where our mouth is. But if we do buy the land with public money, then we can both control and use the land.

    At present, our green infrastructure is being provided at no cost, but like “free” air at the gas station, that can’t continue. It is not free, someone has to pay for it.

    The reason the horse farms and country stores are gone is that they couldn’t make any money. Joe’s Pharmacy turned into CVS, the corner store into Wal-Mart, and the local farm turned into an 80,000 acre meat factory in Argentina.

    If you want to keep the local farm two things have to happen. 1) It has to make a profit. 2) The profit has to represent a reasonable return on his investment. You cannot expect a farmer to farm when he can sell the place for what amounts to 200 years of farm income. One of the things that keeps a farmer in business is the prospect that he can eventually sell the land, if you take that away, you destroy his business. For one thing he depends on borrowing against the land to keep the farm going until harvest. His borrowing power depends on the value of the land and that depends on its development potential.

    You cannot expect to punish someone into being a farmer, or into providing land for free, as Mr. Trippel suggests.

    But, we need the farms for far more than the farm products they produce. All the fruits and vegetables in the U. S. are produced on something like 2% of the area. We don’t need the farms for the farm products they produce. We are going to have to pay them for something else, like maintaining the green infrastructure that our developed areas need. New Zealand already has such a plan.

    Marshall’s demand for APF can only work if APF’s are also required. Otherwise you have put purchasing and accounts payable in the same department. Then a community can say we don;t have APF and wea re not going to have APF: go someplace else.

    This leads back to my first statement, that we need more places, so that there will be a someplace else.

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