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Suburban sprawl an irresistible force in US
By Alan Elsner
Thu Jan 26, 8:19 AM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Across the United States, an unprecedented acceleration in suburban sprawl is prompting concerns about the environment, traffic, health and damage to rural communities, but opponents appear powerless to stop the process because of the economic development and profits it generates.

Sprawl, defined as the unplanned, uncontrolled expansion of urban areas beyond their fringes, has greatly accelerated over the past 25 years, spurred by low mortgage interest rates and aggressive developers.

According to the National Resources Inventory, about 34 million acres -- an area the size of Illinois -- were converted to developed uses between 1982 and 2001. Development in the 1990s averaged around 2.2. million acres a year, compared to 1.4 million

in the 1980s. By 2001, the total developed area in the lower 48 states was slightly more than 106 million acres.

In other words, around one-third of that total was paved over in the final two decades of the 20th century.

"In the realm of local government, growth is one of the most controversial issues, and we see no-growth or slow-growth groups becoming more sophisticated and powerful over time," said Richard Hall of the Maryland Department of Planning.

However, he said opposition tended to fade during economic downturns, when people became less concerned about the environment. Even when opponents succeeded in blocking a specific development, the net effect was often merely to move it to somewhere else.

"Some politicians have tried to do something but they have rarely succeeded in stemming the tide. Developers and realtors have developed a powerful political lobby," said Joel Hirschhorn, a former director of environment, energy and natural resources at the National Governors Association and author of "Sprawl Kills -- Better Living in Healthy Places."

STEERING DEVELOPMENT

"Smart growth" or "slow growth" advocates usually argue that development should be concentrated in existing urban or suburban areas instead of in new suburbs. Many states and counties have tried to protect open space by buying land and through zoning and other regulations.

Others try to provide incentives for farmers and foresters to remain on their land. None of these has had any measurable effect in slowing sprawl.

For Maryland Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (news, bio, voting record), a moment of truth came when he was flying over the Atlantic coastline close to his own congressional district and he saw in the distance what looked like a massive cemetery.

Gilchrest, a Republican who represents an area of northern Maryland alongside the Chesapeake Bay, looked closer and realized he was viewing a huge new suburban development that had sprung up seemingly overnight.

"I'm afraid our heritage is being arbitrarily and summarily discarded without the slightest thought of what we are losing." Gilchrest said in an interview.

In the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which comprises parts of seven northeastern states, some 128,000 acres of natural land are converted into suburbs every year and the rate more than doubled in the 1990s. The number of houses has expanded at more than twice the rate of population growth.

For centuries, Gilchrest said, his community survived through agriculture, forestry and harvesting the rich resources of the bay. But pollution is killing the bay; it no longer supports a sizeable oyster or crab industry. And farmland is fast being turned into clusters of vacation and retirement homes for residents of Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia.

Opponents blame sprawl for a host of problems from traffic jams to bad air, polluted waterways, the destruction of traditional lifestyles and even asthma and obesity.

"Sprawl is killing people, some 300,000 premature deaths annually because of the sprawl sedentary lifestyle, and it is killing our natural environment, scenic vistas, biodiversity, rural towns and much more," said Hirschhorn.

But Robert Bruegmann, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor of architecture and urban planning, and author of "Sprawl: A Compact History" debunked many of these assertions.

SERVING THE MARKET

"What we call sprawl is the process of a lot of people being able to acquire what only the wealthiest people used to be able to have -- a single family home on land with private transportation," he said, echoing the argument of developers that they were merely catering to what the market demanded.

According to Bruegmann, densely populated cities were much unhealthier and worse for the environment than suburbs.

"Agriculture is often worse for the environment that suburbs while cities did a terrible job of protecting water quality," he said.

Still, citizens in some states are responding to politicians' calls to slow or halt sprawl. Last year, Democrat Timothy Kaine won election as governor of Virginia partly by promising a solution to the state's crowded highways.

In his first speech to the state assembly this month, Kaine proposed giving local governments more power to slow growth. "We cannot allow uncoordinated development to overwhelm our roads and infrastructure," he said.

In response, home builders and real estate agents immediately sent 200 of their members to the state capital of Richmond to lobby state representatives and remind them of the dangers of halting development.

Though there is little polling information, a Gallup survey in March 2001 found that 69 percent of Americans were worried about sprawl and the loss of green spaces.

But the economic forces behind sprawl are powerful. "It's hard for a farmer to turn down $100,000 an acre from a developer when he's not making a tenth of that from agriculture," Gilchrest said.
 

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If property is zoned for building,it can be built on.They can't just say your property can't be built on because other people feel that there's already enough buildings in the area and we were here first and we don't want any one else to be here.People then move further out and the process repeats itself.It's a dilemma
 

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Actually, zoning can be changed. Moritoriums can also be put in place. People can fabricate "property rights" all they want, but it's all legal and constitutional.

The "you're here, so I can build too" attitude reminds me of folks on the Metro platform who see the train is packed like a sardine can, yet try to squeeze in anyway rather than wait for the next train. It's the same "me first" attitude that makes people feel "entitled" to their "dream house" regardless of how it may impact those who already live there.
 

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[Q]goose70 originally wrote:
It's the same "me first" attitude that makes people feel "entitled" to their "dream house" regardless of how it may impact those who already live there.
[/Q]If they paid good money to buy property from someone "already there" and the dream house meets the zoning requirements, doggone right they are "entitled". Chances are, they busted their tails working to reach that point. Are they any less "entitled" than someone who has barely worked a lick and inherited property from his grandmama?[smile]
 

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Want to know the cause of the whole problem (if there is one)?
TOO MANY PEOPLE!!

Easy solution - stop giving tax breaks for each child, stop all immigration, send all of the illegals back to their countries.
 
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[Q]goose70 originally wrote:
Actually, zoning can be changed. Moritoriums can also be put in place. People can fabricate "property rights" all they want, but it's all legal and constitutional.

The "you're here, so I can build too" attitude reminds me of folks on the Metro platform who see the train is packed like a sardine can, yet try to squeeze in anyway rather than wait for the next train. It's the same "me first" attitude that makes people feel "entitled" to their "dream house" regardless of how it may impact those who already live there.
[/Q]

We have a 2 word saying over here on the eastern shore. We call it the Bridge Syndrome. It mearly means "I'm over here now and I don't want anyone to follow.

The same attitude applies to all areas where people have found their waterfront home or their hide a way and do not want anyone else to build.

To try to take someone's property rights away simply to stop growth is nothing more then greed.

I always suggest to people who are against property development to donate their property to the state or county with a lifetime estate and the stipulation that when the lifetime is up, the house be torn down and the property turned into a park. Most look at me funny and make the statement the property would have no value to their heirs.

Duh. What's the difference between that and advocating down zoning someone else's property ?
 

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So are you saying that an area never reaches a critical mass of development? That the public must be held hostage by those who insist on developing their land, since now we need to pay to build more roads, schools, etc. to accomidate them? Once one person is allowed to build, everyone must be welcomed, regardless of the consequences?

When you buy a farm, a parcel of woods, etc., that's ALL you buy. If the government takes that away, you should be compensated. Anything else is speculative. Municipailites have the right to zone for specific uses - even to later change zoning as new concerns arise. If zoning prohibits you from using your property as you are CURRENTLY using it, I think the owner should be compensated. But if it simply prohibits a speculative, future use, the taxpayers should not need to compensate that landowner.

Otherwise, let's compensate all the investors in public companies whose investments may have lost value as a result of implimentation of the Sarabanes-Oxly Act, or any other law that tilted the furture value of their investment. Whe you invest, you take a risk. If you can't live with that, you're living in the wrong country.

Obviously this is a complex debate and, like many of you, I've been posting way too much on TF lately and need to get back to my day job. But I ask you to think hard about the consequence of allowing development to continue on its current pace -- the consequence to our fishery and to our ability to function as a society. I'm not sure that Nigeria or India should be our growth model. I'll post a recent article that highlights one example of what I mean.
 

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I don't disagree at all with mourning the loss of places with a slower, less-crowded way of life. I was just pointing out that too often, the blame and anger is directed at those buying and developing the land. Do you save none of the venom for your neighbors that are SELLING it to them?
 

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I don't blame the people who sell the land one bit.. Most people with large tracts of land who are selling out around here are the old farm families that don't have two sticks to rub together. They posses nothing of any monetary value other than the land their fathers and fore fathers handed down through the family. I've also seen more than one family robbed blind by developers and their "'partners" at the zoning commission.

It took longer in appeals and motions for my in-laws to subdivide the 40 acre family homestead to allow the 3 children to build homes on it than it did for a developer to purchase the family farm down the road, appeal for a 1 acre zoning variance in a 3 acre zoning community and start building homes.

[q]King Farm is an award-winning neo-traditional community founded in 1997. With space for living, working, shopping, and recreation, King Farm's 430 acres are conveniently located in the center of Montgomery County, Maryland.

Diverse, vibrant, and active, King Farm is the model of new urbanism. Within the limits of Rockville, one of Maryland's largest cities and the county seat of Montgomery County, King Farm is located just north of Washington, D.C. The community is bordered by Interstate 270 to the west and the Shady Grove Metro transit station to the east, making King Farm an ideally located community featuring the best of urban living in the heart of the Mid-Atlantic[/q]

I grew up with the kids whose parent own and ran this family farm. Guess how much money the kids walked away with their parents died and the proporety sold at auction by the county?

I'll give you a hint. It was less than $0
 

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Excellent point, Captain. I agree entirely.

Also, I don't want to spew venom at anyone (although the sound of that word is kind of cool...maybe I'll change my TF name to "Cobra"). As I mentioned, this is a complex issue involving many facets. We all share in at least some of the blame and should all be expected to help work towards a solution. I was simply adressing one major facet.
 

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I'm not sure there IS a solution. Almost from the moment of the landing at Jamestown, people felt "crowded" in and began to wander off in search of peace and quiet.[smile]
 

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There was an excellent presentation by Ed McMahon of the Urban Land Institute that was given in Middlesex County in November, 2004, in which he gave examples of communities that took control of their own destiny to prevent sprawl. He said you need to identify what you like about your community and identify what you would not want to have happen. Through zoning regulations and incentives a community can make it easy to get what they want and difficult for the developer to get permits to do what the community object to. The key is to realize that you cannot stop growth but you can self-determine what you want your community to look like, and to use a carrot and stick approach to achieve your goals. This presentation was filmed and is somewhat available on DVD. Here in Irvington some of us are attempting to show the DVD to the town councils and planning commissions of Irvington, Kilmarnock, and White Stone, and the public at large, so that informed discussion can follow and we can review the comprehensive plan and the zoning regulations to guide the future. That is the hope anyhow.
 

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Yes, that was a great presentation. I like the part about getting developers to build a Plan "B" or Plan "C" version instead of the cookie-cutter plan A.[smile]
From what I've heard, Kilmarnock must have had someone there, too, and is getting a B or C from Walmart.
 

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I have heard that 80% of Lancaster county is zoned A2, which allows about any kind of development possible, with a few exceptions. I believe Lancaster County's comprehensive plan is under review at this time and it is my hope that the county will be able to implement the same types of regulations and incentives. I have missed the public input meetings held so far but I will make as many as possible and hope there is a large public turnout so we will be able to get that big ball rolling.
 

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Suburban sprawl is created by the people that are trying to move further out to escape it.

I have been trying to follow the Walmart issues in Calvert county, since I grew up there. There is a walmart in Prince Frederick, does there really need to be one in Dunkirk? No. Was there public outcry and opposition? Yes. Did it solve anything? No, Walmart is still going in. The communtiy was trying to outline what they liked and disliked, but the big box is still going in, albeit, two smaller boxes now, from what I understand.

Sprawl is a lose-lose situation.
 
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