Thursday, March 09, 2006

Don't Be Fooled By Talk of Land Use "Reform"

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and the General Assembly are likely to pass legislation under the rubric of "land use reform," including bills that require more traffic-impact studies and permit counties to enable Transferable Development Rights. Undoubtedly the Axis of Taxes will trumpet these worthwhile-but-minor reforms as assurance that the billions of dollars in new transportation funding they want will be well spent. But the Smart Growth lobby is not impressed.

“Far too much emphasis has been placed on increasing transportation funding and far too little on better growth management or transportation planning reform at VDOT,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth in a prepared statement with the Piedmont Environmental Council (which underwrites Road to Ruin).

Schwartz makes the following points:
  • The planning changes will be incremental, and the one voters care most about -- clarifying the ability of their communities to say no to development that would overwhelm their roads – apparently has been dropped from the reform package.
  • Transit would receive a smaller percentage of the new money than it currently does.
  • Much of the money is going to projects that won’t relieve congestion.
  • Instead, VDOT is expected to use the highway money to build projects that will further scatter development and clog roads, instead of providing people with traffic relief and more transportation choices.

Many of the major projects favored by legislators either would not address congestion or would fuel sprawl. For a list of the projects and a critique of each, click here.


At 6:41 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Where is the criteria that says when roads will be overwhelmed? Is that going to be in the countryside where there are no roads and little traffic, or will it be in our most built up and congested areas? How do we know a development fifty miles away won't be the one that "overwhelms" an existing bottleneck?

Why do we beat up on roads for causing development and reward Metro for causing development? 85%+ of people choose to travel by auto, where is the evidence that they would choose other options? Why would we spend more money on transportation "options" when those options have exhibited a steadily declining usage, as a percentage of travel? Why would we spend more money on "options" when we haven't enough for critical repairs to the most used bottlenecks? Why would we spend more money on "options" when those options are really additions to critically necessary and unavoidable roadway expenses?

According to Schwartz, no project will reduce congestion, so how can we use that as a criteria? All of the available "options" suffer the same fatal flaw: they won't reduce congestion, and for the same reasons; why fund them over the mode most people choose to use?
Where is the evidence that scattered development causes more congestion than concentrated development?

Where is the evidence that the "Smart Growth" special interests will be impressed by anything other than "No Growth". Why doesn't Schwartz come up with an argument that makes at least a little bit of sense?

At 7:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was never possible to pass a bill or package that satisfied PEC and its anti-growth friends because the purpose of this game -- and this PEC sponsored blog -- has been obsfucation and obstruction from the first. The goal is no growth, zip, zero, and the maxiumum amount of pain inflicted on the public. I've used this analogy before -- they are Lucy pulling away the football from Charlie Brown at the last minute -- the football can never be actually kicked.

At 8:51 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Right, and it does not have to be that way. Here is a quote from the planning commission in Boone County Kentucky:

"The general feeling is that as long as we have the right infrastructure and have enough green space, then we're practicing smart growth," says David Geohegan, director of planning services for the Planning Commission. "We're allowing more people to move into the county - we're picking up roughly 3,000 people a year for the past decade. People want to be here, so we have to provide a place for them and have to do it in the right way."

Compare that with the Fauquier Supervisor who said "We have no obligation to accomodate deamnd for housing."

At 9:39 PM, Anonymous Deborah Reyher said...

Well, I have absolutely no financial or idealogical connection to PEC or CSG, and I will tell you that labelling folks who want to "manage" growth as "no-growthers" is just nearsighted and foolhardy. I don't like saying that here, as I've seen some very insightful comments here, but please, this sort of extremist name-calling just doesn't work in this complex situation.

Fairfax is at a critical tipping point. All you have to do is look at a dozen or so articles on the "Development News" section of, or go to the development and growth archives of the Post's Fairfax Blog, and the stories speak for themselves. Heck, the reason my website doesn't NEED to be a blog is because the news alone is so very eloquent when the stories are simply organized a little bit to show the patterns of what is going on. I don't have to be a gadfly in my own voice (although I am anyway) when the mainstream media makes the case so very pointedly for me.

At 7:03 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

Gee.. I was struck by the "earmarks" which were essentially token financial commitments.. compared to the total cost for those projects.

Where are they going to get the rest of the money to do those projects?

This is the same old, same old "pyramid scheme" approach to transportation... Put a bunch of stuff on a "wish" list then spin your wheels .. for decades...trying to figure out how where the money is coming from.

.. and we say the slow-growthers are not dealing with reality?

I think the solution to the pro-roaders dreams is quite simple. It's called PPTA.

Tally up the cost of a given project. Figure out how much it will REALLY cost (as opposed to the "low-ball" VDOT estimate) and then calculate what the toll charge would have to be and put the question to the pro-roaders...

I'm betting that once you put the cost on the users directly - their whining about "congestion" will quickly morph to the "unfairness" of ... HORRORs users actually having to pay the true costs of their "choices".

I'm not in favor of forcing people to live cheek by jowl but I'm also not in favor of taxpayers subsidizing those who choose NOT to live cheek-by-jowl.

If someone wants to drive 100 miles a day to get to their little slice of "heaven"... fine... let them do it.. but don't expect the rest of us to pay to build the roads necessary for them to do that.

By all means, Always LET people choose but let's hold them accountable for the financial consequences of their decisions.

At 7:45 AM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

Ray Hyde: I think that, one more time, you've hit the nail on the head; this time with the quote from the Kentucky official. "So long as we have the right infrastructure and enough green space." That does not necessarily mean either "smart growth" or "sprawl." Both density and openness require a certain minimum level of supporting infrastructure. Of course, the Fairfax County BOS' approach is simply to ignore that need.

Then I'd go back to one of my favorites. Who benefits and who pays? The traditional Virginia answers are "few" and "the rest of us."

At 4:13 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...


I'm sure there are growth management advocates that have a realistic approach to our problems. However, my observation is that it usually means something more or less along the lines of No More Growth Here. In your case, you feel that Fairfax is at a tipping point. There are people in Fauquier who think that their open space is precious and Fairfax should plan on another million people.

If I heard growth management advocates saying, here is how we will accomodate growth; if I heard them saying growth should be accomodated over x many years; if I heard some dialog on how to share the pain equitably, then I might feel differently.

Instead, I see a concerted effort to encircle our towns a villages with greenbelts composed of property held in perpetual conservation easements. To me, that sounds like a plan to stop growth permanently in those areas. But like Fairfax, those are the areas that can most economically accept more growth, acording to the arguments set forth by Larry Gross. We have rules that attempt to direct growth to the service districts. Then we refuse to provide services to the service districts in order to prevent growth, and surround them with greenbelts so they cannot grow, even if services are ever provided. That isn't a plan to manage growth, it is a plan to stop it.

A plan to allow local jurisdictions to say no to development based on road infrastructure sounds like a plan to say no to growth. It doesn't sound like a plan to fix the infrastructure, especially when it is followed with a statement that says more infrastructure won't work. Furthermore, this plan is based only on roads and congestion, but experience suggests that next they will be back with the same argument about schools, fire, etc. Therefore this is the camel's nose in the adequate public facilities tent, which is just a more comprehensive way to say no.

When I see county officials abdicating their land use management obligations for themselves and all their successors, (and whoever might elect them) through permanent conservation easements, that sounds like not only No Growth, but disenfanchisement as well.

Historic districts are another way to permanently prevent change. Comprehensive plans are usually an attempt to retard change in twenty year periods, as is the current fight over wineries. I observe that when building sites or industrial land is eliminated from the plan, no one complains changing the comprehensive plan, but let someone propose a change the other way and howls of anguish comre from the No Growth side of the room.

In short, I'm not convinced by either the rhetoric or forbearance of growth management advocates that growth management isn't a code phrase for No Growth.

I am far from an advocate for unfettered growth, and I tend to believe that Larry and TMT are right, those that benefit should pay. I'm not so sure that the benefits aren't more widespread than we think. I'm not convinced that PPTA's don't just take that benefit and put it in private pockets. I don't know for sure, and I'm not convinced that we have the metrics to a) make a decision or b) know if we have succeeded or failed after we make a decision. I'm not convinced that the traditional answer is that few benefit and many pay, although there may be some of that.

But, what I see is that the Fairfax folk don't want growth, and the Fauquier folk don't either: nobody is making a growth management argument that says how we will accommodate those two million people that are coming.

Around Albemarle more that 51% of growth is happening in rural areas, yet the planners are still saying "This isn't the kind of growth we want." In other words, they want to stick it all in their version of Fairfax. But, if 51% of people are buying in rural areas aren't they saying that this IS the kind of growth we want. Well, yes and no, because if you ask pre-existing neighbors, they probably hate it.

So I also see a disconnect between what the planners say they want, and what is happening. It seems to me that if they plan for what they want, instead of what they are so obviously getting, then they are more likely to wind up with a plan that is inadequate. As I see it, that is how we got into this mess: we made plans that were inadequate, partly because we planned for slow growth or smart growth or no growth. Because we ignored or refuse to believe the idea that jobs are moving out of the city, etc. etc. etc.

I believe cramming more people into Faifax will result in more congestion and more pollution in exactly the area that needs it least. I don't believe you reduce congestion by having more people in one place. But even teh MCOG traffic management plan only thinks that 15% of new home construction can be diverted to "desired" high density areas. Based on Jim Bacon's numbers, that can't possibly be enough to make a difference any time soon.

Across the nation we have spent billions to provide more transportation options, and the result is more cars and more travel than ever. We gave ourselves options and didn't use them, therefore transit deserves fewer dollars. If we spend it on roads that don't solve the problem, it is no different from spending the money on transportation options that don't solve the problem, except that more people will actually use the roads. That does not strike me as a failure. But Schwart's arguments strike me as worse than a failure: bad arguments undermine the positions and goals that he supports, and it gives the movement a bad name.

Instead of crafting solutions that might have worked, that were balanced and reasonable, and based on facts he asked for a blanket no to development on an ambiguous basis. So instead of making some gains, he got nothing.

At 5:04 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

I think to understand the sentiment behind the "no more growth" folks .. is to understand what seem to be convoluted and irrational responses to growth.

Who are these folks? Not the hard-core activists who promote government-imposed solutions to settlement patterns but the bulk of those average citizens who take hold of the concept of saying "no" to new growth - and who WILL vote pro-growth folks out of office.

I think it is pretty simple. These folks think new growth means more congestion. They don't see new infrastructure coming online so their solution is quite simple - stop the reason for the congestion.

If one think this sounds simplistic I'd agree but it's no more or less simplistic in my mind than folks who think the solution is more money - but want it to come from someone besides themselves

So I'd posit that there are essentially two kinds of folks stuck in traffic.

Both groups are opposed to what they think are the reasons for the congestion. But half of them think the reason is "growth" while the other half think the reason is a lack of infrastructure.

I don't see either group covered in glory in terms of producing rational solutions.

At 9:00 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

"I don't see either group covered in glory in terms of producing rational solutions."

I love it. That's a great one.

I buy your argument for Fairfax, but what is the justification for rabid anti-growth sentiments where 99% of the area is unoocupied?

At 5:58 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

Anti-growth people are driven by what they view as negative impacts that they see and feel and a belief that there is a direct correlation between population growth and the negative impacts.

It's a simplistic gut reaction to be against things that harm their own self-interests.

I'm not saying any of it is justified or rational - only what drives the opposition - which is important for anyone who wants to engage the issue and/or propose solutions.

Pro-road people also have simplistic views - such as building expensive infrastructure and hand-waving away the financial realities away.

Where the two groups meet - and strongly disagree is who is going to pay for the infrastructure with no-growthers adamantly against being forced to pay for things that they believe are fundamentally the reason for the problem to begin with.

Without a meeting of the minds - and some kind of agreement of how to go forward.. you can bet .. that things.. will not go forward.

And I'll give an example of something that DID go forward.

Chris Miller of PEC and Mike Tolson of the Virginia Association of Homebuilders - natural enemies - BOTH spoke in favor of TDRs - Transferable Development Rights - and the legislation sailed through the Va GA.

If you can replicate this on other issues.. you have the begining of a more durable relationship - where dialgoue can take place rather than bomb-throwing rheotric.

I'm convinced that solutions are not going to come from pro-roaders nor anti-growthers but rather from the middle.

Rhetoric is the anti-solution.

At 11:15 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

I think you are right, it is going to take some middle solutions. In order to figure out where the middle is, we are going to need to measure more and fell less.

I think the TDR is a good idea, as far as it goes. It has not done very well in other areas. It is good for the developer, but it is still a lousy deal for the transferee. Thre has already been one court case where the county tried to use the TDR program against an owner. They refused his building request, because they thought building was more desirable someplace else. They claimed that he still had use of his property because he could still sell a TDR. County lost. So the TDR's are a good example of not quite meeting the middle ground.

At 2:11 PM, Anonymous Deborah Reyher said...

I'm just back today to this discussion and only have time for a short post. But jeez, folks, this notion of a debate between just "two groups," and the characteriation of those of us who want to "manage growth" only saying that as "code" for "no growth" just misses the complexity of what is going on, at least in Fairfax.

I have said over and over again for myself, and have heard it from about 200 local community leaders in Fairfax, that NO ONE WANTS TO STOP GROWTH. But the multi-million dollar marketing of Fairfax abroad by the EDA, coupled with chronic spot-zoning of huge projects, while our officials claim their hands are tied because the Dillon Rule won't allow a review of infrastructure impacts, and while time spent in gridlock per day inches into the "hours" versus "minutes" category, just has to stop.

We have pleaded with County officials to engage in a public process to talk about how to manage growth -- no deal. You seem to think citizens should come up on their own with specific proposals for what to do, where, and over what time frame, but this is the job of our County planners if our elected leaders would just tell them to start working on this in cooperation with interested citizens. They won't do it.

We also pleaded with state legislators, in two trips to Richmond and countless emails and LTEs, to clarify that localities have this authority, and to make sure we can engage in regional planning as we try to find solutions to the transportation problems. We could at least have used this to hold our County officials' feet to the fire and demand the regional planning we so depserately need. The housing industry went berserk and all the bills were killed.

That leaves us with the clearly malfunctioning status quo. Is that what we want? No chance to change anything until it is too late?

I have enjoyed the debate here and on the Fairfax Focus blogs run by The Post, where serious folks have shared serious thoughts about the difficulties we face. But please, stop the "name-calling" implicit in stereotyping our message so that you can juxtapose us with other groups and pin us with a false "no growth" label that essentially calls us "NIMBYs". We're not.

Heck, something dense has to happen at MetroWest -- everyone I know wants some sort of TRUE TOD there, but first we have to have principles and standards for what TOD means in Fairfax, with its particular configuration, roads, schools and parks and other infrastructure limits. Two supervisors publicly called for that on December 5th and then there was a convenient two month hiatus in any progress on that question while the MetroWest re-zoning -- with all its ill-considered and unenforceable provisions -- moved forward.

MetroWest is far more complicated that either the County or the "smart growth" folks seem to understand. But it only takes a few hours scrutinzing the proffers to see how it fails as "smart growth," time lots of those eager to take a position on the matter don't seem to put in. I think it's remarkable that a cadre of dedicated citizens wants to take a multi-faceted and regional approach to the evolution of Fairfax, starting with MetroWest, which will set the stage for future projects.

So, please don't tell me what I stand for. I'm pretty clear about that and invite you all to learn more at

At 2:12 PM, Anonymous Deborah Reyher said...

shoot -- I got going and now I"m late for what I had to head out for.... Passion has a price even on the most mundane level.

At 10:52 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Deborah: your Fair Growth organization is a rare point of rational discussion, in my opinion.

See my first post about your organization. The fact remains that there are many organizations and individuals that are so highly polarized there can be no discussion with them: it is winner take all, and then take some more.

Don't think for a moment that think what I recognize, and tried to state as gross generalizations, apply to everyone.

I happen to believe that there are a few optimum mixes of population density, housing density, job density, street density, traffic density, and open space all alng the continuum of values. I believe that what consists of a balanced neighborhood can possibly, but not likely occur anywhere in the mix.

For a while. Then it becomes unbalanced until the forces at play work themselves out.

Fairfax is clearly unbalanced, and I'm not sure it is their fault: there is too much outside pressure.

If you took the NIMBY acronym personally, please accept my apology.

At 3:31 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Deborah: I see by the paper that the powers that be seem to be giving lip service to public participation: let them talk, make minor mods, and then go do what you want anyway.

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