Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Downtown Do-Over

Natalie Gouchner, vice president for policy and communications for the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce (and former Gov. Leavitt staffer and a good friend), recently penned a great piece on the need for a new vision and plan for downtown Salt Lake City. As the core and identity of our metropolitan area, keeping Salt Lake City healthy, viable and vital is important.

Natalie refers to some of the visioning and leadership efforts of the past, including the old Second Century Plan developed in the 1960's. This plan led to establishment of some of the city's current icons, like the Salt Palace, symphony hall, a farmers' market, and a pedestrian plaza on Main Street.

It will be particularly interesting now to talk about the role of downtown, given the booming nature of the suburbs and the location of retail and activity centers out to these areas -- what should downtown be, and how should it relate to the region?

More to come on this.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Living Close to Where You Work -- For A While, Anyway

George Pyle, editorial writer for the Salt Lake Tribune, recently took on the transportation debate, first in his blog and then in the Trib opinion section, and the question of why more people don't just live closer to where they work. As many so often do, he blames it on our development patterns which isolate housing neighborhoods away from commercial and business areas.

This approach can work two ways, however. The way that Mr. Pyle seems to favor is having people live closer to downtown, or near transit lines (which are aimed primarily at downtown.) But, as some of the commenters on the blog point out, this approach generally leads to rapidly elevating housing costs in those areas, making it more difficult to do.

The other way to accomplish this laudible goal is to move jobs out to where people live, but many decry this as contributing to sprawl. Perhaps the answer is urban villages, but that's a topic for another entry.

One of the things that tends to be overlooked in discussions on this topic, however, is the nature of our working lives these days. While it is true that people change their place of residence relatively frequently thes days, I think they are more likely to change their jobs even more frequently. People seem to build their dream house, or find a place that they really like, and maybe it happens to be close to where they work when they buy it. But then one or the other or maybe both primary wage earners find different jobs which are now further away, but they don't want to move from that great house and neighborhood they now live in. So, in a short time, all those people living close to their work, are no longer living close to work but having to commute greater distances.

People just won't behave the way we think they should ... what do we do about that?

Friday, May 26, 2006

If Centerville Had Only Thought of This...

Wow, now that takes guts (or lack of brains, which is what guts or courage is sometimes defined as!).

The small city of Hercules, California had developed a plan for a portion of its community (it's historice waterfront area) as a pedestrian-oriented village with high-end shops and homes. However, Wal-Mart acquired a 17-acre parcel in the middle of the area, and have been seeking to gain approval for a 100,000 square foot store.

Don't know if the city was precluded from denying a permit because of pre-existing regulations or what, but apparently the city felt the only way they could stop the large box plan was with a vote to begin condemnation proceedings to acquire Wal-Mart's property.

If Centerville had only thought of this earlier! But hey, Wal-Mart hasn't started building yet, so it's still not too late!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

It Ain't Easy Being Dense.....

Recent action by West Jordan City with regard to the planning of a largely undeveloped portion of their community goes to demonstrate what I've been saying for a long time -- it ain't easy actually doing what everyone (or at least some) think is the right thing to do.

One of the principles that has come out of the Envision Utah visioning effort was that we should be developing a little more densely than we have been, so that land is consumed at a slower rate, so that communities will be more compact and thereby more walkable and more easily served by transit.

West Jordan was even one of the communities that agreed to these principles when they were visited by Wasatch Front Regional Council staff, asking about their acceptance of these principles to help in guiding the update of the long range regional transportation plan.

So now, when it comes down to the brass tacks, the city says "Ummm, let's not do it quite so dense." Now I'm not just pointing a finger at West Jordan. I think the same will happen in most communities. When you're talking about general principles and philosopy, it's relatively easy to say they are good things and you're in favor of it. But when the action actually has to be taken....

Reminds me a little bit about my acceptance of good eating principles. I agree that it would be a good thing if I cut down on those sweets and desserts and ate more fresh fruits and vegetables. I know it, and I agree with it. But when you put that broccoli in front of me along with that piece of banana cream pie, well....

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The "Politics" of Planning Philosophies

I've been reading an interesting book lately, Politics Lost: How American Democracy was Trivialized by People Who Think You're Stupid, by Joe Klein, a political columnist for Time magazine and author of Primary Colors. Klein has followed politics for over 30 years and written about presidential campaigns, national affairs and politics in general for most of that time.

Klein's premise is that since about the mid 60's, political campaigns have been taken over by pollsters and consultants with the result that we get very few "real" candidates anymore -- they are packaged and managed and never allowed to say what they really think. He knocks both major political parties for doing some of the same things, and for some different things.

As I was reading what he had to say about why the Democratic party has lost its ability to win many significant elections lately, it began to resonant with me about some of the things I think we in the planning profession may be guilty of as well.

Klein writes, "There was an essential political conundrum that shaped the futility of liberalism in the television era. Democrats slouched toward public pessimism -- the middle class was always suffering silently, the poor neglected, the environment degraded -- but they were philosophically optimistic: humankind was improvable, reform possible, government could help make things better. Republicans, by contrast, were publicly optimistic -- the United States was exceptional, the greatest country in the world, and anyone who said otherwise was unpatriotic -- but privately realistic and often pessimistic: people were who they were, the poor would always be with us and there was no sense trying to change them. These fundamental beliefs had significant implications when it came to running political campaigns.
In public, Reagan's 1984 'Morning in America' was countered by Congressman Richard Gephardt's 1988 'it's close to midnight and getting darker all the time.'"

"In retrospect, it seems clear that a primary cause of the Democratic Party's decline was its refusal to acknowledge legitimate public (feelings) about crime, welfare dependency, affirmative action, and forced busing to acheive integration."

To get the full depth of what Klein is saying, you really must read more of the book. But it struck me about how this seemed similar to some of the things I've been reading lately about approaches to the philosophies of urban planning.

For example, the ideas of James Kunstler seem to be getting a lot of play in planner circles about suburban growth. Here are some recent quotes from Kunstler's blog:

"For those of us positioned against the suburban juggernaut, 'growth' invokes the destruction of more landscape, the conversion of pastures and croplands into McHousing subdivisions, with a long menu of additional liabilities -- not least being a huge investment in a living arrangement with no future. One would think the 'homebuilders' could see this coming -- with oil edging toward $70 -- but the truth is that their companies are programmed for only one kind of behavior -- to keep building 3000 square foot McHouses 27 miles outside Dallas, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Denver, et cetera."

"There are many ways of viewing this 'growth' predicament, and some strategies we can turn to in the face of it. An obvious one is to change our behavior, to stop acting as though our destructive, terminal, and futile activities were beneficial or indispensable. For instance, we could yield to the reality that the age of mass motoring will have to end. Instead of desperately seeking 'alternative fuels' to run our 100 million cars, we could make an effort to restore our railroads. Instead of a million McHousing starts out in the meadows and cornfields, we could repair our existing towns and cities. ... Anyway, we are going to need every meadow, cornfield, and pasture that we have, because as cheap energy wanes, we are going to be desperate to grow enough food to feed ourselves -- another reason to be wary of alt. fuels fantasies based on growing crops dedicated to gasoline substitutes."

You can read more at Kunstler's blog, but be aware that the name of it is a bit crude, "Clusterf--- Nation."

Many other planner-embraced writers sound similar notes about the "badness" of the suburbs and growth.

The chord these writings struck in me was just what Klein had said in his book, that these were pronouncements that had some philosophical truth, but were given by "slouching toward pessimism." This, remember, is the strategy of those who are generally the losers in our political system.

It also seems to be a lack of acknowledging what, as Klein wrote, the public feels or has concerns about.

Compare that with what writers like Robert Bruegmann (Sprawl: A Compact History) are saying: "(Sprawl) works because it satisfies a lot of needs. When people have been able to afford it, people move out of cities. We now have tens of millions of people who can do what only a small minority once could do. ... It's a way to get things once possessed by only a few. Privacy, mobility -- social and physical -- and choice."

Joel Kotkin, the originator of "The New Suburbanism," says, "We may continue to decry (the suburbs) and make fun of them... . But we have embraced the suburbs and made them our home. For most of us, they represent both our present and our future. Over the next quarter century, according to a Brookings Institution study, the nation will add 50 percent to the current stock of houses, offices and shops, and the great majority of that new building will take place in lower-density locations, not traditional inner cities."

Richard Carson, the former Executive Director of Portland METRO, says that one of the problems with the image of planners today is that we often try to push things that people do not want. Eventually we wind up being ignored as irrelevant, or actually spark a revolt, as when voters passed Measure 37 in Oregon (sound familiar, like what has happened in national elections?). "Many current government planning policies are being driven by a desire on the part of environmentalists and some sympathetic elected officials (and, I would add today, doomsdayers about oil supplies) to change the American automobile culture. The anti-automobile sales pitch is designed to radically change our lifestyles, limit our mobility by getting us out of the car, and to have us walk, ride a bike or use transit. ... I am not suggesting that we abandon the quest for a more multi-modal transportation system. However, we should build the system people want. It is clear most people prefer the automobile to mass transportation."

Now I hear the bells of Klein's writing that says Republicans are more optimistic in their public face, but more cynical (realisitic?) or pessimistic in their deeper philosophy -- people aren't really going to change.

We as planners don't really want to embrace either of these approaches, do we? Perhaps a Joel Kotkin hits the middle road when he acknowledges public desire for suburban style growth, but calls for ways to make it better rather than reject it outright. "This redefinition of suburbia into someplace more diverse, interesting and multifaceted represents one of the most revolutionary developments of our times. It provides us with an opportunity to stop complaining about sprawl and start learning how to make better the places that most of us have chosen as home."

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Zoning for Roads?

A recent situation in the town of Saratoga Springs points out some interesting ramifications about land use control. It seems that a property owner hoping to develop his land asked the city council for a rezone. However, UDOT had recently informed the city of its intent to eventually acquire land in the area for the future Mountain View transportation corridor. The city council, aware of this interest, eventually voted not to approve the rezone.

"'Utah has statewide transportation needs that will cost about $23 billion, and we are about $16.5 billion short of that amount,' said Geof Dupaix, a UDOT spokesman. 'Right now, there is no funding to build the Mountain View Corridor.'"

"'I'd love it if UDOT wanted to purchase my land,' said (property owner) Franc, 'but they haven't offered. I'm being penalized because UDOT may want my property eventually.'"

Some interesting points raised here. The general rule for planners is that we can stave off approval of land development for maybe up to a year, but eventually will need to approve an appropriate application unless the land can be bought. In this case, however, the landowner is asking for a rezone, which is a legislative action and assumes to use by right for the higher density development the applicant is asking for. Is it appropriate to not grant such a rezone request, primarily for the purpose of stopping a greater level of development in the path of a know future transportation route? It would be one thing if the land were already zoned for development, but not in this case.

It seems to me that I remember some court cases along these lines, saying something like that if the land around the subject property were being approved for development, and the primary purpose of the government is to prevent development so that its future acquisition cost will be lower, this is inappropriate and not allowed. This may well serve to be a cautionary tale.

But this particular case in Saratoga Springs is not that straight-forward. The area also lacks sufficient secondary water, and is another reason the council did not approve the proposed rezone. This alone may be an appropriate reason for denial. But it certainly should make planners stop and think about the rationale being used for approval or denial of rezones.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Transit, Transit -- Not Quite Everywhere!

Kick-off meeting yesterday in SLC for a $600,000 study of transportation in downtown Salt Lake. As the core central city of our region, anything that can be done to make it more viable and attractive should be a good thing. Coming on top of the recent discussion about raising Salt Lake County property taxes for the extension of four TRAX lines, it seem that SL County is doing much to enhance its transit options.

While I do not begrudge the big county these efforts, I hope we do not forget or relegate needed transit for other areas of the region as well. There will only be so much money and effort that can be put into building new transit, and if it is all focused on SL, what happens to the rest of the region?

While we are getting commuter rail in Davis and Weber Counties, more transit will be needed in these areas as well. And let's not forget Utah County, but in this case, residents and elected officials still need to step up to the plate and make a commitment to transit funding at least equal to what the other three Wasatch Front counties are doing.

In the Legacy Parkway settlement late last year, one of the provisions was that there would be about $2 million provided for an Environmental Impact Statement for expanding transit into south Davis County. According to UDOT staff, this study will likely get underway this summer, and take about 18 months.

As funding and options are considered for areas in Salt Lake County, let's not forget other outlying areas as well. After all, these areas will need it as much or more so than the central county.

Friday update: Looks like Utah County is indeed working to figure out its transit future, as noted in this DesNews story.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Change in Growth Patterns Coming?

Pretty good commentary on the Planetizen website by Anthony Flint, a writer with the Boston Globe and author of the recently released book This Land: The Battle over Sprawl and the Future of America, about how our patterns of growth may finally start to change because of transportation -- the cost (with rising oil and gas prices) and the inconvenience (constant traffic congestion).

Talking about the consequences of the relentlessly rising energy costs, Flint then points out, "But the discussion always comes right up to the ultimate reason we use so much energy -- our physical environment and how we live -- and then backs away."

"Yes, more people are interested in taking transit or walking more. But millions are in no position to do that. There's no transit to take and there's nothing to walk to. ... The good news is, new forms of development that require less driving and more efficient use of energy are teed up and ready to go.

"The real estate industry has picked up on the desire for shorter commutes and a better sense of community. Frustration with long commutes -- and not getting home for the 5:30 Little League game -- has been a big motivation. Now energy prices ... are clearly becoming the tipping point for a great redirection away from sprawl.

"Across the country, innovative policymakers are also ready to level the playing field in terms of government regulations and infrastructure investments... . What needs to be done is clear, and really isn't all that controversial: change zoning to allow mixed-use development in town centers..., cut tape for urban infill development, ... shift investment to transit."

"Today, establishing alternative development patterns isn't going to hinge on saving farmland or protecting endangered species or preserving historic sites. It's going to come down to convenience, quality of life, and the pocketbook. ... Now more than ever, we shouldn't shy away from talking about the physical environment as the single biggest component of our energy woes. Quite the contrary -- this is the moment to be seized by urban planners and policymakers alike."

By friend and commenter, Google Peak Oi, will likely be pleased with this entry. I agree with Flint that high energy prices will change some of our patterns of development, if the persist long enough. But I also hear that energy prices will head back down in the near future as demand softens and production increases again due to price incentives. So we shall see!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Surpised Over Toll Road Opposition?

There's been a lot of debate in recent months over the idea of building toll roads in Utah. The line of UDOT and transportation planners is that this may be the only way we can build the roads we need soon enough, because we'll never get that amount of money through typical taxation.

Public concern with this idea has been voiced frequently, as evidenced by a recent story in the DesNews. Now comes a story that the truckers' association plans to mount a campaign against the idea.

Opposition to such ideas should not be surprising. While we dislike congestion, we seem to dislike paying more money for things even more.

Anthony Downs, senior fellow with the Brookings Institute and one of the foremost and most realistic experts on transportation, notes that the most effective solutions to congestion are ones the public will not accept. He says, "There are only four ways to cope with this problem without restructuring our society (so that everyone doesn't go to work at the same time each day).

"The first way to cope is to build enough roads so that everybody who wants to move at once can do so at high speed. But there are so many people involved we would have to turn each metropolitan area into one giant cement slab ... at enormous expense."

We could "expand off-road public transit so it takes enough people off the roads so that those left could move rapidly. But outside of New York City, very few Americans commute by transit. Only 4.7% did so in 2000, and if we remove those in NYC, it would be 3.5%. Why so few? Too many people live in low-density settlements that cannot be efficiently served by transit."

We could "charge money for driving during peak hours and set the tolls so that enough people would be kept off the roads so those who used them could drive fast. ... But most Americans are against this method (see stories above!)

"The only remaining method of coping is forcing people to wait in line to use the roads during peak hours. That can be defined as traffic congestion. So that is what we have to do, and so do people in every other large metropolitan region in the world. Congestion is the only feasible solution to our basic mobility problems."

So get yourself some books on tape, or find a good friend to share drive-time with, or plan to use your cell-phone for some extra work time. That seems to be all we'll accept, at least for now.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

More Fallout

A little more research on the writings of Len Gilroy (see previous blog posting) turned up a paper he has recently published which tells how to export Oregon's Measure 37 to other states. It's a pretty extensive work that gives advice on how to essentially gut land use regulations. Gilroy, an AICP-certified planner, claims that his interest is to take land use regulation back to its "legitimate" role, which he says is "common law, nuisance-based tradition that characterized the first century after the nation's founding. The nuisance-based approach was primarily focused on preventing harm to the property rights of others and giving property owners wide latitude in determining the best use of their land."

Gilroy acknowledges that this cause has been helped by the Supreme Court's Kelo ruling, which was an eminent domain case. But the wide-spread reaction against the decision has helped energize property rights groups to overturn not only economic development-based eminent domain, but land use regulation in general. Gilroy advocates hooking the two issues together in what he calls a "Kelo-plus" strategy.

"The advantages of pursuing a 'Kelo-plus' measure are several. First, it offers a single vehicle to address both physical and regulatory takings at the same time, effectively 'killing two birds with one stone.' Second, it capitalizes on the tremendous public and political momentum generated in the aftermath of the Kelo ruling to enhance the protection of private property rights. Finally, it affords a chance to educate the public that, while private property rights are certainly endangered by eminent domain abuse, these rights are also threatened in a greater and more frequent (but less visible) way by the excessive and unfair burdens that can be imposed by regulation.

"Given the overwhelming public backlash against teh U.S Supreme Court's Kelo vs. New London decision on eminent domain and the attention it drew to the frailty of private property rights, it is reasonable to assume that a similar message in other states would also have a tremendous popular appeal."

Gilroy then goes on to give strategies for moving Measure 37 clones along in other states. "In terms of messaging and making an impression on voters, one of the central lessons learned from the Measure 37 campaign was that it is essential to find a human face ... to associate with a regulatory takings measure. Instead of explaining the concept of regulatory takings to voters in the abstract, being able to highlight a visible 'victim' whose property rights have been taken from him via regulation offers...strategic benefits. ... In the campaign for Measure 37, the plight of 91-year old Multnomah County property owner Dorothy English demonstrated the threat posed by regulatory takings in a way that resonated strongly with voters. ... Enlish's message to voters in the Measure 37 campaign was simple and effective: ' I'm 91 years old, my husband is dead and I don't know how much longer I can fight...I've always been fighting the government, and I'm not going to stop.'"

Gilroy goes on to talk about forming strategic alliances with other groups. "Taxpayer advocacy groups can be a powerful ally in this regard, as they share a common goal of protecting individual and political freedoms and reducing the size and scope of government. ... Agricultural groups -- such as farm bureaus, cattlemen's and ranching associations, and granges -- are also natural allies that measure proponents can partner with to build public support, as they tend to believe strongly in the protection of property rights. ... Finally, homebuilder associations have a natural interest in property rights protection, usually hae large member bases, and are often quite active politically. However, it may be prudent to avoid having homebuilder groups directly lead the push for a regulatory takings measure in order to avoid opposition claims that homebuilders are less interested in protecting citizen's property rights than in reaping financial rewards that benefit their industry."

Looks like the "campaign" has begun.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Fallout from Measure 37

According to Leonard Gilroy, a planner (has AICP certification!) and policy analyst with the Reason Institute, the property rights movement is swelling to a crescendo because of Oregon's Measure 37 and because of the backlash to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in the Kelo case.

Gilroy points to active measures that are underway in a number of states to provide property owners with compensation any time a regulation serves to reduce property value, inspired by Measure 37.

Funny how the discussion is always how land use regulations diminish property values which should be compensated. There is never any discussion by property rights advocates about doing anything if a land use regulation increases property value, which happens all the time as property is rezoned to allow for development. See my previous blog posting on this topic.

In any case, Utah was not one of the states mentioned by Gilroy, which surprised me a bit because of our experience with SB170 this last legislative session. Don't know if that means we just aren't on the same wavelength as the property rights groups, or if they didn't think this was a credible move. In any case, if Gilroy is right and there are so many serious actions underway in other states, the spillover may affect us here in the coming year.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

And We Thought We Knew All About Sprawl...

Sprawl. While there are lots of different definitions of what it is and explanations for how it happens, maybe we don't know as much as we think we do.

A recent story about a study conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto gives some interesting and surprising results.

The study is based on complete aerial photography and satellite images of the entire United States from 1976 and 1992. The researchers used a variety of techniques to examine the extent of development of urbanized areas and the density of that development. They then looked at various factors to explain some of the differences.

Some of the interesting conclusions: "Overall, Boston is less scattered than Atlanta, but recent development in Boston has been more scattered than it has been in Atlanta. Miami, San Francisco and Los Angeles (!) were the most compact major cities, while Pittsburgh and Atlanta were the most scattered."

"Hilly places see more scattered development as people avoid the costs of building on hillsides -- but mountains act as barriers and lead to more compact development" (hence the idea that the Salt Lake metro area has natural urban growth boundaries).

But most surprising -- "roads do not seem to have any impact on the extent to which development is scattered, despite commonly held beliefs to the contrary. 'We looked at a lot of measures of road density -- miles of road per area, average distance to a road, distance to an interstate exit -- and we could find no relation between those measures and the scatteredness of development... ." Now that's a blow to the common wisdom!

So what are the factors that seem to be most responsible for low-density sprawl? "'The presence of aquifers is particularly important,' says Turner, 'and that seem to me to have policy implications. It looks as if controlling access to groundwater is an important way to control whether development spreads or not.'"

Also, "The number of municipalities in a metropolitan area...does not affect development patterns. ... However, the team also found that development near cities is less scattered if it occurs in a municipality than if it occurs in an unincorporated area of a county. This suggests that (in some areas) people may be moving out to just beyond municipal boundaries in order to avoid more stringent municipal regulations."

And we thought we knew the enemy!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Not All Carte Blanche for Charter Schools

A bit of a ruckus kicked up again this last week over the charter school in Alpine, with stories in the papers and even making it on to the TV news. The fuss has apparently started up again because the school that was proposed earlier for Alpine was asked by the City Council to look for other sites, which they did. However, the new site is causing just as much a stir as the original site. One neighbor was on the KSL news in the evening saying there was nothing that could be done to stop the school under state law, anyway.

Well, in a way he's right, but not completely. Section 10-9a-305 of the code does say that in part 7(a) that "A charter school shall be considered a permitted use in all zoning districts within a municipality."

But the code also says, in part 4 that "a school district or charter school shall coordinate the siting of a new school with the municipality in which the school is to be located to avoid or mitigate existing and potential traffic hazards, ... and to maximize school, student and site safety."

Part 2(b) also says that "a municipality may subject a charter school to standards within each zone pertaining to setback, height, bulk and massing regulations, off-site parking, curb cut, traffic circulation, and construction staging." When an application is received, however, the city had better have these requirements in its code, because further on in that part, the code says "the only basis upon which a municipality may deny or withhold approval of a charter school's land use application is the charter school's failure to comply with a standard imposed under Subsection 2(b)(i)."

So the question is, does Alpine have any such standards in its ordinance? Has the charter school actually submitted a land use application to the city? If not, Alpine may have some time to get some standards in place (they had better be reasonable, however.)

See, it's not just carte blanche for charter schools, as many suppose. There are some things that can be required.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Man Bites Dog!

It's been one of those bromides I've heard for so long, it is interesting to see it finally happen in a serious way.

Government is perpetually assailed by property owners who feel that they should be compensated when the value of their property is diminished by zoning or other land use regulation. However, there is hardly ever any mention of what should happen when the value of property is significantly increased by the same process. Some scholars have suggested that such windfall should be shared in some fashion.

Well, from that recent hotbed of property rights assertions, Oregon, comes news that the Portland Metro Council is considering some kind of "windfall profits tax" to help pay for the impacts of development and...(wait for it) the costs imposed by Measure 37, which requires government to pay landowners for the diminshed value of their property due to land use regulation.

A Metro committee, made up of (get this) mayors, realtors, tax officials and home builders, actually has recommended to the Metro Council that such a measure be considered for discussion and adoption. The action is partly in reaction to the passage of Measure 37 by voters in 2004.

While the head of Oregonians in Action, the group that pushed for passage of Measure 37, does not agree with the windfall profits tax idea, he did suggest that perhaps a fund using property or capital gains taxes paid by owners after their property is developed could be considered.

Truly a "man bites dog" kind of story!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Watch Out for Those Darned Unintended Consequences!

Not that I am necessarily opposed to things like smart growth or concurrency requirements or growth boundaries or things like that, but I do worry when ideas like this are pushed as the solution to all problems.

Take, for example, the push for smart growth and a corollary, concurrency requirements. If you really think these through, they sort of have opposite effects. This was clearly brought to mind recently when I saw a story in the Baltimore Sun last week about a research study on the effects of the Maryland smart growth laws.

Maryland, as I'm sure you're all aware, has long been touted as the prime example for "smart growth," brought to national attention by the actions of former governor Glendening. However, a recent study by researchers at the University of Maryland has shown that the pairing of the basic smart growth idea of directing new development to developed areas where infrastructure already exists, and also having a concurrency requirement -- that is, infrastructure must be in place before new growth can be permitted -- has served to actually push development out into unregulated, rural areas.

David Flanigan, president of Elm Street Development, a Virginia-based housing developer, said of the results shown in the research study, "When they shut those areas down" to new development because of concurrency requirements due to crowded roads or schools, "people get in their cars and start driving" out to where they can build. "It's dumb growth."

Now this is possible in part because smart growth requirements are implemented on a county-by-county basis in Maryland (and in most other areas that are using a similar approach), which means that unregulated areas will be more attractive to developers. This result would argue, as one official in Maryland did, "is for officials to collaborate on regional planning four housing and the needed infrastructure at the same time." Not a bad thought, but given our aversion to anything but local control of land use, is this realistic? We may never know.