Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Transportation Debate Shifts to Land Use Reform

Rebounding from his defeat Tuesday, when the House of Delegates rejected his $1 billion-a-year proposal to fund transportation improvements, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine pushed the case this morning for connecting land use and transportation planning.

Addressing a rally of some 200 environmentalists and conservationists near the state Capitol building, he said, "I’ve held town hall meetings across the Commonwealth to talk about transportation, and the people of Virginia are sending a very clear message to their legislators: Don’t come home empty-handed on this issue.”

The rally was organized to show support for three measures designed to blunt the impact of new development on Virginia's overloaded transportation system.

-- Require traffic impact studies for comprehensive plans and new development proposals;

-- Clarify existing law to permit localities can turn down rezoning proposals that increase development on a parcel if the roads can’t handle it; and,

-- Allow counties to adopt policies to transfer development rights from one part of their community to another.

“These bills represent first steps and common sense solutions for our growth and traffic problems,” said Christopher Miller, President of the Piedmont Environmental Council.

“We are encouraged by bi-partisan leadership seeking to improve land use and transportation planning. We need a comprehensive state, local and private sector partnership to design communities to minimize traffic, to provide more transportation choices, and to use land use planning solutions to reduce transportation infrastructure needs,” noted Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.


At 7:12 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

As presently structured, transfer of development rights are a rip-off. This is a good idea but it needs a lot more work.

At 12:57 AM, Blogger Jim Patrick said...

-- Require traffic impact studies for comprehensive plans and new development proposals;

Currently “The comprehensive plan shall include a transportation element...” and transportation’s one of the mandated pre-planning components of Comp Plans.

Subdivision applications “. . . . shall include reasonable regulations and provisions that apply to or provide:... 2. For the coordination of streets within and contiguous to the subdivision with other existing or planned streets within the general area...”

In addition it’s a local option to require detailed impact studies prior to subdivision review under VA § 15.2-2242(4)(a)

-- Clarify existing law to permit localities can turn down rezoning proposals that increase development on a parcel if the roads can’t handle it; ....

Clarify that public health, safety, and welfare are the basis for zoning decisions?

What localities need, really need, is a tiny smidgen of backing on the decisions they do make, but are cost-effective for developers to sue over. Courts consistently place government (theoretically the peoples’ representatives) and developers on the same footing. There should be a presumption in favor of resident owners, residents, non-corporate owners, and locality in that order.

But that’s immaterial to this. What Kaine’s proposing is centralization of decision-making into the Richmond bureaucracy.

Despite Kaine’s rhetoric about increased local control that plays well in a Dillon state, the practical effects are that A) VDOT will become a major player in whether developments proceed or not; and B) Tighten guidelines – “clarify” – in the wide discretion that jurisdictions currently have just gives the localities a bit less latitude and commercial developers more ammo to sue with.

At 5:29 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

I'm not sure how this turns out because I'm not sure folks really know what the problem is.

Developers don't pay for infrastructure. Whatever infrastructure is built, the cost is passed on to the folks who buy the homes.

The problem is that localities willingly approve rezones without ensuring that the infrustructure required to serve new development is part of the approved rezone.

I've seen this happen over and over with the supervisors who approved the rezone claiming that it was VDOT's responsibility to provide the transportation infrastructure - even though they knew that because of VDOT's money problems, it would be decades before the needed infrastructure was built.

Another part of the problem is that localities do not plan infrastructure in congestion with their land-use designations and decisions.

They'll designate an area for growth and development and entertain rezone proposals but that have absolutely no cogent infrastructure plan to serve that development. It's all done, after-fact, in response to the mess they created by not planning in the first place.

The problem is.. in a nutshell - BAD PLANNING... or NO PLANNING done by non-professional part-time citizen boards of supervisors who couldn't adequately plan a garage in their own back yard much less produce a complex infrastructure plan for say a 1500 lot subdivision 2 miles from an interstate interchange.

I'm not encouraged that the GA is going to "fix" this based on what I am hearing so far because some of the bills - on their face - seem draconian to those from the rural portions of the state who just don't have the problems experienced by the growth areas of the state.

These rural legislators are truly "easy pickings" for the developer lobby who will just simply point out how tough the bills will make it for the average rural citizen to .. build a home.

At 4:07 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Right. We talked about that before, developers might absorb a little, but more likely two things happen: they offer less for the land, which hurts locals, and they add the rest to the costs and throw profit on top of that: the new homes cost more which hurts both the new locals and the old locals.

This is not going to make it tough to build a home, it is going to make it impossible - only developers will be able to comply. So the guy that wants to put one home on the back of the farm doesn't have a cost effective reason to sue. He just suffers quietly away until he sells the whole farm to a developer that will sue. Bingo, new development or big luxurious sprawl homes.

I don't see any point in promoting policies that won't get you to the goal you want. But what's the goal?

Prevent development?
Prevent congestion?
Put development where it won't cause congestion?
Put development where it will cause congestion in order to support transit?
Is it to plan for new transportation so either the state or locals can build it?
Is it to plan for new transportation so both the state and locals can avoid it?

Nobody seems to be able to agree on a goal, so it's no wonder we can't figure out how to get there.

We can't land use our way out of traffic congestion any more than we can road build our way out. If I thought for a second that health, safety, and welfare were the basis for zoning, I wouldn't have a beef. But this has long since gone past that and now it is a combination of social welfare and value judgements.

The first time you turn someone down because the roads can't handle it, he's going to ask when you plan to fix the roads. And your answer is, we can't fix the roads because you can't pave your way out of congestion.

It is not in our plan and we are not going to put it in the plan. So he is permanently excluded from society so he can fulfill his position of subsidising everyone else by providing the space that allows them to drive uncongested, while sending their home values through the roof.

If this happens in the more urban areas, you lose your chance for infill. If it happens in the rural areas it's draconian.

This is really screwed up. Nobody knows what we are trying to do, let alone how to do it.

At 6:51 PM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

The arguments so far seem to make a compelling case that the Commonwealth hasn't got a clue of what its policies re transportation and other public infrastructure, along with "land use," are or should be. Yet, the Governor and members of the General Assembly are running around saying "let's do this, that and the other thing."

It's as bad as the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors trying to wrestle with projects claiming to be "transit oriented development," before the Board has defined what TOD is supposed to look like.

With all due respect to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, a civilized society needs more than taxes. It needs some rules or guiding principles upon which the populace, through its elected officials, agree.

Virginia has no "guiding principles" concerning transportation, infrastructure and "land use." It's all a "Katie-bar-the-door" free-for-all. Those who see continued development under existing conditions to be in their best interests try to manipulate the process in their favor. Those who don't like the status quo are pushing and pulling in other directions (and tossing out candidates perceived as "pro developer" to boot). Some who like the relatively undeveloped areas bordering Virginia's metro areas have discovered "smart growth" and are pushing to urbanize Fairfax County. Others, who moved to Fairfax County (& Prince William & Loudoun) for a suburban life style, just want to stop all rezonings that threaten their way of life. Some people are just treading water.

Moreover, none of these people are going to change their behaviors, but will only harden their positions. Some will toss even more elected officials from office and dash the political dreams of others in 2007. This does not seem to be a formula for progress, bur rather, a recipe for guerrilla warfare.

What would any of the plans (Senate or Kaine) or semi-plans (House) accomplish? Would traffic congestion in Fairfax County or Tidewater be better with the new tax and spending or zoning restrictions? And what the devil does "better" mean? What are the public infrastructure impacts of all this growth that is "inevitably" coming to Virginia? Who will pay for these costs and who will be reaping the benefits?

In the long run, whether we are pro-development or slow-growthers, we'd all be better off if Tim Kaine and the GA stopped trying to do something right now and first figured out what the something is and then "ran it up the flagpole" to see what the citizens think. We need definition and consensus. Otherwise, we are in for many more years of guerrilla warfare.

At 9:14 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Thank you TMT. Well said.

At 4:30 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

It's true you cannot build your way out of congestion.

It's also true that if you build new houses and don't provide the infrastructure needed to serve that new development that the end result will be more cars on existing roads whose original design capacity has been exceeded.

I don't think the solution is to throw up hands and say that because we cannot build our way out of congestion that we shouldn't worry about infrastructure needs.

Congestion is normal especially at rush hour. Many roads are often almost empty outside of rush hour.

The GOAL is to NOT have GRIDLOCK at rush hour.

That DOES take more infrastructure and it must be paid for and it SHOULD be paid for by the folks who have moved to the area and are the ones who need the additional capacity.

Will this make homes more expensive? Of course but do you want to build homes on the cheap with respect to .. say water/sewer?

Or schools? Or Public Safety.

The bottom line is that these things cost money and by building new homes and not incorporating the costs of these services is in nobody's interest.

It's just plain dumb.

If someone wants to argue that new folks should not have to pay full boat for new infrastructure - then lets have a discussion about what is a fair and equitable cost share but don't give the argument that since we'll never have uncongested roads.. that we shouldn't build them nor collect the money necessary to build them.

That's exactly what has got us in the mess right now.

That's dumb too.

We find this approach to having adequate schools to be unacceptable but when it comes to transportation we act like a bunch of idiots unwilling to accept the reality of not providing an equivalent level of infrastructure to serve new growth.

At 2:15 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

I'd say it is unfair to require new folks to pay full boat for infrastructure when according to some estimates almost no one's home is paying its full cost for existing infrastructure.

Since existing folk are not and havenot been paying their full sahre for many years, the infrastructure is inadequate before the new folks arrive. To then charge them full boat means that they are paying for their new infrastructure, plus part of the make-up for what wasn't done before.

Now, the new infrastructure is billed to the big bad developer in terms of proffers etc. But when the new homeowner moves in he is still not paying enough becuase his home is now subsidised same as everybody else.

Then the cycle begins again.

If you charge the newcomers full boat, charge everybody full boat.

At 3:40 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

The idea that developers are "bad" and that they should be socked with infrastructure costs is bogus.

Developers are businesses that provide a product to meet a demand and any government "add ons" will merely be passed on to the purchasers.

But this argument may be "shorthand" for the basic premise for those that need a villian and don't understand the basics of private enterprise to start with.

But there should also be no doubt that if someone "chooses" to drive 100 miles a day in order to save money for a new house - that there are substantial costs involved in providing them the infrastructure that they will need to do that.

Everyone acts like since the road is there - that there is no cost - to personal decisions about where to live and work - when it should be clear to any mope that adding more cars to crowded roads is going to result in more congestion.

People who choose to do this should be charged "full boat" for those costs and it is fundamentally unfair to those that choose to not commute long distances to, essentially, subsidize the long-distance commutes that others choose.

Those who do this respond that it is the only way they can afford a house. Whoa? Excuse me. I lived in a cheesy apartment for 15 years before I could afford a "starter home".

Why are these folks entitled to single family homes in the first place?

We all make choices about this.

I chose NOT to commute 100 miles a day and to wait quite some time until I earned enough to buy a home and I really do not think my taxes should be raised to pay for more roads so that others can do their 100 mile commutes - so they can more easily afford a home.

This is what is wrong with our transportation policy.

Roads are for transportation - not to provide venues for commercial development - nor to subsidize those who would buy a home.

This is what has happened to transportation. VMT - Vehicle miles travelled has skyrocketted in the last decade - almost triple because "some" folks - not all folks have decided that for their own reasons they wish to drive longer and more frequently.

Allocate the equitable and fair costs of infrastructure to those that obstentibly "need" and use it - then let folks make the calculation and trade-offs associated with time and money.

As long as those folks don't have to pay their fair share costs - we essentially have set up a welfare system to subsidize those who consume a higher share of resources than they pay for - and without change - we not only provide no incentives to take more personal responsibility for their actions, we actually will encourage them to continue their wasteful behavior - because they don't directly bear the financial consequences of their own behavior.

HOT lanes will be a great start towards changing the system and a true pay per user system and the current inane logic of "I pay my taxes and I deserve roads" without ever thinking that "more roads" costs "more money".

At 1:11 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

But what are you saying, that those that live out of town should pay more because they ostensibly drive farther? I moved out of town so I could be closer to my job.

I have said that an appropriate level of gas tax would be a fair proxy for a use tax. It charges more for heavier vehicles that cause more damage and pollution and it charges more for those that drive farther.

But this idea is wildly unpopular, especialy in the rural areas where people drive more and don't have much congestion: they see it as a subsidy to the urban areas. But even though they drive more distance, they do it mor efficiently and their fuel costs are not necessariloy higher than someone who spends an equivalent amount of time stuck in slow moving traffic. I think it is a reasonable approximation of a fair deal.

They would prefer HOT lanes, toll roads and congestion charges because they think it is unlikely they would have to pay those fees.

Instead, we are seeing increased costs to purchase and insure a vehicle. I own several vehicles to run the farm, and most of them are seldome used. Under this plan we are charging more for people who sit instead of for those that drive.

I think it is incorrect to charge more for new users on the basis that they are the ones that cause congestion and the need for new infrastructure. It is incoorect to say that the new people are causing the need. We are all caught in the congestion trap and we all need relief, we ought to all pay. If you drive less, you should pay less, no problem there, but it doesn't mean you should pay nothing.

If the government had planned adequately and built the roads when they were needed, more of us would not have arrived yet and more of us would have had to contribute. Had home been paying their share all alng the crisis might not be what it is. At this late date it is unfair to pile all the new costs on the late comers, especially since the early arrivals have long been paying less than needed to cover their costs. There is more than enough blame to go around.

But slapping the fees on home construction is utterly misguided. We need to address the fact that homes in general are not paying their costs, and some mileage or fuel based fee is probably an appropriate part of the tax structure. And anyway, it is not just the location of new homes that drives VMT up. Women entering the workplace is just one reason that drove VMT that won't be repeated.

If you have chosen to pay more for what is probably a smaller, older home close in, then that is your choice. You get a benefit for driving less, and you pay for that benefit through higher taxes.

By paying more for your home, you have helped cause the situation that homes farthe out cost less. Those that live out there get a benefit for having a less expensive or larger home, and they pay for that benefit at the gas pump. Seems fair to me.

But remember, only 20% of travel is work related, first of all, and second, we don't know where those people are going to work, or shop for that matter.

I'm in that minority that lives close to work, owns many vehicles, drive little, on mostly uncongested roads, pays 300% of my cost of services in taxes, and I've had my building rights reduced, and the ones I have left have been estricted until they are impossible to use. Then, as a condition of not taking a further shellacing, I'm required to conduct a money losing business. I'm allowed to conduct only that business and according to regulations that restrict my opportunities even further. I might like to do what others and the family has been doing here for two hundred years but which is suddenly socially undesireable.

If you live in town and your property value is going up 20% a year, no one is telling you that you can't get full value for your property at any time you choose. I don't feel to sorry for you. But If you do sell out and try to come here to buy land for a new home, say when your job gets relocated, it probably won't be available.


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