Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Is Land Use Influenced by Sales Tax?

Story in today's Trib about a bill for the 2006 legislative session that would phase out, over a period of time, the "hold harmless" formula that was put in place back in 1983 when the state legislature changed the local distribution of sales tax from 100% point of sale, to 50% point of sale and 50% population. To gain approval and not negatively impact some communities, the law provided for cities to ba able to choose which provided them with the greater amount of revenue.

Not surprisingly, those with a heavy sales tax base received greater benefit from 100% point of sale.

In recent months, there has been considerable discussion about "zoning for dollars," that is, the concept that cities are doing about anything they can to gain those sales tax dollars to fund city budgets. The contention is that cities are zoning for too much commercial, often in the wrong places, and accepting about anything the commercial developers want, just so they can get those coveted sales tax dollars, even to the detriment of good community planning.

Sen. Greg Bell, the former chair of Envision Utah, has been at the forefront in this discussion, proposing in the last legislative session to change the sales tax formula to a much greater weight on population vs. point of sale, the idea being that this would diminish the incentive to have commercial at any cost in the community.

Is there really anything to the idea that cities will do anything, even bad planning, just to get sales tax dollars? My own opinion is that there is, though maybe not to quite the degree some think. But it certainly has had an impact. The emphasis seems to have come about in relatively recent times, however, and in my mind correlates with the "truth-in-taxation" constraints on property tax, which have made it increasingly more difficult for local governments to rely on that tax. Once again, a product of the law of unintended consequences.

The bill proposed by Sen. Bell for the 2006 session is a result of on-going discussions between the Senator and the League of Cities and Towns. Sen. Bell would like to proceed with his original idea, but can see that there is considerable controversy in doing so. Also, there is some doubt as to whether changing the distribution formula really would change cities' attitudes about seeking commercial development.

What did become obvious was that the old hold-harmless provision was still in play, something that really was intended to be short-term to get cities used to the 50-50 formula. Sen. Bell and other legislators insisted that this should be fixed, and in return for not pursuing the other formula change, the League agreed.

So would changing the sales tax distribution formula really reduce cities' desire to have more commercial development, at any cost? My sense is that it would to some extent, but probably not as much as some think. Will we ever really know?

Friday, December 23, 2005

Utah County and Envision Utah

Good editorial in yesterday's Provo Daily Herald, about planning for growth and using the principles put forward by Envision Utah to do so.

Poor Utah County has been taking some flak lately, particularly over their disarray on transportation plans, most specifically about transit. The editorial takes a bit of a shot on this topic as well, saying, "Planning for growth is the only solution. If a community can organize future development around mass transit or create areas where people can walk to work or shops, the future will have much less traffic congestion. ... For some reason, long range planning is uncomfortable for too many political leaders... . Communities should be coordinated and interlocking, and that can only be accomplished through collaboration. Vision alone is not enough.

"In the end, we have only two options in Utah County: we'll either grow well, or we'll grow badly. Either way, growth cannot be stopped. ... Envision Utah has some excellent ideas. Leaders in Utah County should take heed."

Happy Valley embracing planning -- quality growth planning at that? The millenium must be near!

In all fairness, Utah County has had some great "prophets crying in the wilderness," such as the late, great Sen. LeRay McCallister, and Provo Mayor Lewis Billings. Looks like their work may finally be spreading a bit more.

Note: I am having a hard time making a link to the editorial at the Herald, so if the one above doesn't work, go here and then under the opinion heading, look for IN OUR VIEW: Prepare for growth now.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Breaking Away

Stories in the DesNews and Trib yesterday morning about the last-ditch attempt by Mayor Mortimer in Bluffdale to rezone the disputed large tracts of land before he leaves office, in an effort to "save" the area and keep it in Bluffdale.

This area was also subject to an attempted referendum vote by citizens who do not want density to change much from the predominant 1 unit per acre in most of the rest of the community. Winners in last month's municipal elections were those who were supporting the referendum, making the referendum moot.

The controversy also has an interesting twist to it, as the property owners have petitioned district court to have the land removed from Bluffdale City. The mayor and city staff negotiated a compromise with the owners, and attempted to have it accepted by the court as a settlement agreement, but the judge would have none of it, saying it would have set him up as the ulitmate zoning authority for the city, which he did not see as his role.

Whether you agree with the citizens in this issue or with the mayor, the whole thing still begs the question -- if a property owners doesn't like what the city has in its general plan for their land, should they have the right to shop around for a jurisdiction that will give them more of what they want? What does such an approach do to the integrity of plans developed by communities?

Obviously, not every property owner would be able to do so. Those who are not located on the edges of a city cannot easily disconnect and move to another jurisdiction. But there are still plenty that could do so, if they don't think the city's plan gives them enough future value for their property.

It will be interesting to see how the judge rules on the disconnection petition in the Bluffdale case. It could have some far-reaching implications.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

On Smart Growth and Sprawl

Just a quick note on an interesting essay by Rick Bishop, Executive Director of the Western Riverside (CA) Council of Governments, called "Can't Smart Growth and Sprawl Just Get Along?"

Rick also has some problems, like I have had, with the nomenclature of what we call sprawl, smart growth, new urbanism, etc., and what it means (or doesn't mean) to people.

Bishop says, "Too often planners, the public, and decision-makers seem to make smart-growth an 'all-or-nothing' issue when discussing future development. In their simplest form, though, smart growth concepts should be one of many common and acceptable approaches utilized by jurisdictions to plan for and accomodate future growth."

Rick has some good ideas here. I'd like to hear your comments.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Smart Growth, New Urbanism, and New Suburbanism

Good story in this morning's DesNews about Kennecott Land and their plans for development of the "west" bench. A lot of exposure for planning and urban development principles, most notably all the stuff on smart growth, new urbanism, and now new suburbanism.

I've blooged about this before, about the mixing of the terms with most people not knowing what they really mean. But, as I was reminded by a commenter on an earlier blog entry, even New Urbanism takes in a lot of what is called now New Suburbanism. It actually looks to me like the three have a lot in common, with some slight variations.

Even Smart Growth, which I thought was mainly about developing more compactly in existing developed areas, actually is much broader. As listed on the website for the Smart Growth Network, there is a principle on "Strengthening and Directing Development Toward Existing Communities," but the others could apply to suburban, greenfield developments and communities as well.

The main difference in New Suburbanism from New Urbanism, is that NS talks about a chain or archipelago of suburban community centers as the predominant development pattern. This is what the Kennecott plan is all about, to me.

And, of course, one of the spiritual fathers of New Urbanism, Peter Calthorpe, who helped Envision Utah develop their growth principles, and was the lead consultant in developing the Kennecott plan, seems to be very much a New Urbanist/New Surburbanist as you view what he is doing.

Not much new under the sun, really.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Wall Street Journal's Anti-Planning Rant

As they used to say on the Monty Python show, "And now for something completely different..."

Get a load of this opinion piece from the Wall Street Journal by Kimberley Strassel, "This Land Is Not Your Land." What an anti-planning rant!

The piece is about ostensibly about activist judges and how they are thwarting the will of the people in Oregon, who have twice voted to overturn the state's restrictive land use regulations. But she also makes some pretty intense statements about planning and land-use regulation in general.

"Oregon's property regime traces back to the 1970's, when elites worried that all the rednecks in the pretty parts of the state might get the uppity idea of developing their land and ruining urbanites' weekend playground.

"In addition to its abuse of constitutionally protected property rights, the law has also had devastating economic effects. Property prices inside the boundary artificially skyrocketed [ed. note -- that's not what I've read, at least not until recent times, and that may be due in large part to other economic factors], while rural areas were barred from development that would create new jobs. No other state has been foolish enough to pass a copy of the law."

Whew! Much of the rest of the piece is about how the judges have been biased against property rights and how they have acted improperly and should be pilloried.

Strassel also praises the voter initiative, saying "residents here had seized upon the one tool more powerful than entrenched state politicians: the ballot initiative."

I wonder how Strassel would feel about how voter referendum are used frequently in California (and now beginning in Utah) to subject developer projects to voter approval, often causing long delays in the ability of projects to be moved forward while they await the outcome of such votes.

While I find some issues with the way things are done in Oregon as well, this piece seems to attack land use regulation overall as being anti-propert rights.

It all depends on whose ox is being gored.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Here We Go Again on Regional Facilities

A story in this morning's DesNews again points to the issues surrounding important facilities of regional significance -- this time, a major sewage treatment plant. This story is about the Salt Lake County Council's approval of changes to the federally required water quality plan for the valley, which are needed to give legitimacy to the plant and the ability to tap into federal dollars. Of course, there is significant opposition (what can be done these days without it?). Riverton City approved a conditional use permit for the plant a while ago, which is being appealed by opponents as well.

All this is deja vu to some extent back to the battle a couple of years ago over the Metro Water District plans for a water treatment plant in Draper. The issue eventually boiled down to the desire by the District to locate a needed regional facility in a given location vs. the ability of a community to govern its land use. The state legislature was brought into the fight, and a bill loomed for some time that would have exempted water treatment plants from control by local land use ordinances. Such a measure raised the specter of a whole raft of uses thus coming to the legislature to seek their exemptions as well.

The issue was eventually settled between the Metro Water District and Draper City, but Rep. Greg Hughes and Rep. Ralph Becker put forward a bill that would have created a process to review and settle such disputes in the future. This South Valley sewer treatment plant issue was on the horizon then as another issue (that might be a harbinger of more in the future) if we didn't find a way to effective deal with such issues.

The bill, however, was eventually watered down and ultimately only required that various entities that build facilities of regional significance (cities, counties, special districts, school districts, and even major utility companies) must notify each other as they develop long-range plans.

Well, a fat lot of good that has done in the sewage treatment plant case. We have another rousing dispute going, and once again a legislator is threatening to step into the fray with a special bill. Sen. Waddoups has a bill file open titled "Siting Criteria for MultiCommunity Treatment Facilities."

So here we go again. It just seems like we can't ever effectively deal with some of these problems that are staring us in the face. I talked with Ralph Becker about this issue and what might come of it, and he said while he has sympathy for all the issues we talked about a couple of years ago, he's not too excited about trying to do anything again because of how his and Greg Hughes' efforts were treated last time.

So here we are, again. And you can bet your bottom dollar this won't be the last time we see this issue come up.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Difference Between New Urbanism and Suburbanism

Another review of Bruegmann's book, Sprawl: A Compact History, this one by Scott Timberg in the LA Times.

Timberg notes some of the more interesting stuff, "Like London, whose unchecked growth was denounced by the intellectuals of its day, Los Angeles was deemed a sprawling, tacky, man-made disaster. ... But LA was on its way to becoming highly dense, and greater LA is now, at more than 7,000 people per square mile, the densest urban area in the United States. (Unlike most East Coast cities, even LA's outlying areas are very tightly packed.)"

"By contrast,(Bruegmann) argues, the 'smart growth' policies of Portland have been ambiguous. Portland is eminently livable, but has not reduced sprawl and remains a low-density city."

Much of this leads me to conclude that suburban growth is inevitable, and thus much work should be done to make the suburbs better -- New Suburbanism, as Kotkin calls it.

But what is the difference between New Suburbanism and New Urbanism? After all, both call for mixed use, walkable developments, etc.

My examination leads me to conclude that New Urbanism focuses on the design of particular developments or even areas of communities. It does not really address such issues as infill or primacy of the urban core. New Suburbanism encompasses much of what is included in New Urbansim, and instead of advocating the traditional urban core and minimization of fringe development, its emphasis is on creating new "urban" centers in the outlying areas, with walkable commercial centers, community centers, arts venues, etc.

That is what the new Kennecott Land master plan is to me.

Update: The Urban Land Institute has put together an excellent document on this topic, called "Ten Principles for Smart Growth on the Suburban Fringe." Before you click on, be forewarned it is a large PDF file and may take a while to download. Good stuff, though. I'll quote some sections in upcoming blogs.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Shaking the Squirrel

Little item yesterday in our local Davis County newspaper, the Clipper, about David Putnam's dogged pursuit of Wal-Mart and Centerville City. The city has been through an agonizing, years-long ordeal on the front lines of the "we hate Wal-Mart" wars. Due to a lot of reasons, some articulated by commenters on this blog in months past, Centerville has had to follow its adopted and legal ordinances and approve the project. Some, most notably Putnam, just can't let it go.

Putnam moved out of Centerville years ago, and now lives in west Weber County. Yet he continues to fight the battle in his former place of residence. When the Centerville City council took action a few weeks ago to give the final final final approvel to the project, Putnam threatened to take the whole issue to court.

Now Putnam says he doesn't have the money to pursue the court battle, but will start a referendem petition to relook the traffic and air quality studies. Even other vigorous battlers of the Wal-Mart project who still live in Centerville have acknowledged the fight is over and have declined to join with him in further action.

What Mr. Putnam doesn't seem to understand (as many citizens don't) is the difference between a legislative act and and administrative one. The recent actions taken by Centerville City have been administrative, which are not subject to referendum.

But more importantly, and the reason why I bring this up on the blog, is that it shows to me the mentality that is becoming more prevelant with those who don't get their way on a land use issue. It used to be, "we're going to take you to court!" But now, the weapon of choice seems to be, "we're going to do a referendum!" It may take some time before citizens learn what is properly referendable -- in the meantime, planners and local government officials, expect some extra work on controversial projects.

The whole situation with Mr. Putnam and Wal-Mart in Centerville reminds me of a great story that Mayor Jerry Stevenson of Layton told at a recent meeting. Jerry was raised on a farm in west Layton and spent a lot of time outdoors in the fields. He said one time he was working outside and had his dog nearby, when the dog spotted a squirrel and took off after it. The squirrel holed itself up where the dog couldn't easily get to it, and when the dog stuck his muzzle in to get at the little fella, the squirrel took a pretty good chunk out of his nose. Well, eventually the dog got ahold of the squirrel and killed it, then went over to lay down by the truck and nurse his sore nose. Jerry said as he watched the dog, every so often he would get up, go over to the dead squirrel, grab it in his muzzle and shake it vigorously, then drop it and go lay back down. Seemed like the old dog was trying to still get in his licks on that darn squirrel who had done him damage, even though it was already dead.

Sometimes, people like Mr. Putnam are like Jerry Stevenson's dog. The issue has been beat around and is dead. We don't like what it did before it died, so we go back and shake that dead squirrel, just to make us feel better.

Time to bury the dead squirrel, Mr. Putnam. Sure, maybe we all don't like Wal-Mart or big boxes, and wish things had turned out differently. But shaking that dead squirrel, in the end, isn't going to do anything but churn up a little dust.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

West Bench Plan - Smart Growth or New Suburbanism?

Stories in this morning's Trib and DesNews about the unveiling of the west bench plan for the 75,000 acres of Kennecott Land. Noted New Urbanist Peter Calthorpe was the lead consultant in putting together the plan, saying the plan "warms my heart."

Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Caroon said, "The Salt Lake Valley is starting to get used to the idea of smart growth."

But is this smart growth? From what I've read of smart growth, the idea is to concentrate development in the older urban core, where services and utilities exist and development of new infrastructure can be held to a minimum.

This plan calls for a massive new infrastructure all along the foothills of the Oquirrh Mountains, from the Great Salt Lake to the Utah County line. The plan even contemplates a light rail "spine" running the entire length of the foothills. I know that's on no one's long range transportation plans right now. Where's the money for that come from, when we can't even get the current plan funded? In one sense, that sounds like sprawl to me.

But wait, is it really sprawl? Yes, it is a lot of new development in "green fields," but with a new twist -- town centers and villages and employment centers -- sounds like New Suburbanism to me.

The trend of the future, fellow planners. Making the suburbs better, not stopping them altogether.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Free Market Would Choose -- Smart Growth?

A rather ingenious opinion piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution today, by Jay Bookman, deputy editor of the editorial page.

Titled "Free Market Would Never Pick Sprawl," he proposed some rather novel ideas about how an unfettered development market would act.

Bookman says that those who oppose Smart Growth attack the concept by saying, "What others deride as sprawl is actually just the free market at work, the result of millions of Americans choosing the lifestyle they prefer."

Bookman counters by writing, "First of all, the free market, left to its own devices, produces dense development, not sprawl. Developers want to put as many units as possible on their property, because that's how they make the most profit; you don't see them going to court demanding the right to build fewer homes per acre. Sprawl is only possible through intense government regulation. ... In fact, smart-growth alternatives impose fewer restrictions on developers than does sprawl-inducing zoning, and infringe less dramatically on developers' property rights. Philosophically speaking, it ought to be a conservative's dream.

"Sprawl is not a rejection of elitism; it is the expression of elitism. It is people using the power of government to protect 'us' against the incursion of 'them.'"

Some very interesting stuff. It ought to get us thinking a little deeper.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

One Does It Right -- Another, Well...

Two good and contrasting opinion pieces in the Trib Sunday.

The first, by Alan Matheson, contrasts the way the Legacy Parkway in south Davis County was planned with the Mountain View Corridor in western Salt Lake and Utah Counties. Alan does a good job of pointing out that a planning process that includes a variety of viewpoints and opinions results, in the end, in a better (or at least more acceptable) project. This fits in many ways with the ideas in the book The Wisdom of Crowds, which I think have a lot of merit.

Indeed, if we are to avoid more referenda on planning issues, we must find ways to make decisions with greater public involvement and a broader range of views represented.

In Davis County, our attention will now turn from the Legacy Parkway to expanding transit into south Davis County, and planning for the north Legacy Parkway. Already, it is becoming clear to me that we need to follow Alan's advice. Farmington City has been working hard to plan for the north Legacy corridor through its rapidly growing west side, especially how it will connect to the south Legacy. While Farmington officials have been working hard to involve people in their community, those who will be intimately affected to the north in other communities have not had their say. The rumblings are beginning, and we must find a way to get their comments, as well as those of many others.

In the second opinion piece, Randy Horiuchi explains his views on the actions which ultimately led to the Utah Supreme Court recently affirming the decision by the lower court to have sections of the Fort Union Family Center torn down and moved. Randy does offer an apology for not following proper procedures, but says he was thinking of the county taxpayers as a whole in his zeal to see the project move forward.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Utah -- Great Home of the Sprawl?

Nice story in this morning's DesNews on the great "sprawl" taking place along the Wasatch Front. Trouble is, it may not be all that accurate.

Yesterday, all the media reported on the Sierra Club's recognition of Salt Lake City as a place that is learning how to develop "right;" that is, not sprawling. In this morning's Trib, there is a great story about West Valley City's work to create a city center and transit hub out of the old Valley Fair Mall. We seem to be getting recognition all over the place about how Envision Utah has helped us turn the corner and learn to grow better (though I am quick to recognize that we still leave a lot to be desired in actually implementing the stuff Envision Utah has put forward).

So, in today's DesNews story, intrepid reporters Erin Stewart and Brady Snyder write, "Go figure: On the day when Salt Lake City is lauded as an anti-sprawl champion, Salt Lake County building permit figures show the cities surrounding Utah's capital are sprawling out in record numbers."

They then proceed to point out how in the fartherst reaches of the county, places like Herriman are rapidly growing, putting the lie to the anti-sprawl plaudits.

Just what is sprawl, O knowledgable writers? Is it simply rapid growth in areas away from the traditional urban core? If that were the case, why did you not write about Daybreak, which is almost as far out as Herriman?

Is it just the pattern of development -- large lots vs. New Urbanism? If this is the case, how then do you explain a recent study by the Northwest Environment Watch on how major metro areas around the country compare with the way Portland, the anti-sprawl advocate's Mecca, has grown?

The study, called "The Portland Exception: A Comparison of Sprawl, Smart Growth, and Rural Land Loss in 15 U.S. Cities," reaches some interesting conclusions. "For every 100 new residents added to metropolitan Portland's cities and suburbs between 1990 and 2000, about 10 acres of rural land or open space were converted to suburban or urban development. In contrast, new residential development in Charlotte, North Carolina, consumed 49 acres...for every 100 new residents."

"NEW's analysis...quite clearly demonstrates that greater Portland's urban growth policies...have helped protect rural lands and open space on the urban fringe, and prevent the spread of low-density, sprawling development."

The tone of the study is definitely that Portland's growth policies have done a great job of reigning in the spread of new growth across the landscape. No wonder we keep hearing that we should all try to be like Portland.

The really interesting part of the study, however, is that of the 15 metro areas studied, Portland came in third. There were two that actually had better numbers than Portland, with only 9 acres of land consumed for every 100 new residents. One was Sacramento, and the other was ... Utah's Wasatch Front.

How can this be? We have so many Herrimans and Lehis and West Jordans and, and, ... such BAD land use policies (except maybe in Salt Lake City, according to the Sierra Club -- quote Mark Heileson, "You have good things happening in one area, and then you have the worst kind of sprawl you can get in the Herriman area...")

Maybe it has something to do with our desert environment, sandwiched between a couple of "natural" urban growth boundaries -- the Wasatch Mountains and the Great Salt Lake. Actually, when I think of the kinds of developments we approve around here, they are NOT like what you find in Virginia or North Carolina, or even Illinois or Michigan. We do have relatively small lots.

So, dear DesNews reporters, maybe saying what sprawl is, is not so easy. At least one study says we do OK, and even the Sierra Club seems to agree.