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WebMemo #123 on Smart Growth

July 3, 2002

Growing Smart Unwise

By and

The American Planning Association's (APA) Growing Smart Legislative Guidebook is chock full of egregious assaults on property rights. Those flaws also expose some major inconsistencies:

  • Highlighting reasons for a new vision of planning, the APA observes, "A marked shift in society's view of land. People no longer believe, as they did in the nineteenth century, that land is something merely to be bought and sold." (preface xxix).

    The APA cites the more progressive view that land is a "resource." In their considerations of land use, they mention swamps ("wetlands"), "scenic beauty," affordable housing, agriculture, density, and air pollution. As in most of the reports' recommendations, heavy emphasis is placed on environmental concerns while economic consequences and property rights are virtually ignored.

  • The APA planning document contradicts its own account of local and regional diversity.
    On one hand, the APA demands rigid compliance to a uniform standard: "Vertical consistency is the concept that regional and local plans be consistent with state plans and vice-versa" (preface xliv).

    But through a system that stifles innovation, planners suggest that local adaptation can occur, "Governments are empowered with a range of planning tools to manage growth and change locally to create quality communities. (preface xlv)"

    The report cannot decide rather it favors or opposes adjustments by communities to solve local problems.

  • Growing Smart conflates state, regional, and local government. By viewing development as the static activity of planning, the document cannot account for differences due to markets, businesses, and consumers.

    "The problem statement must be tailored to the individual state, reflecting its unique range of issues. Sustained growth has been a reform stimulus in many regions of the nation, particularly in coastal states; other areas are excluded from the boom. For example, in West Virginia, the eastern panhandle, which is under the influence of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, is growing rapidly, but the remainder of the state is not, thereby creating differences in perception of the need for statutory change" (1-9).

    The example of regional diversity in West Virginia reveals the inefficiency of "vertical consistency." While admitting the presence of varying local needs, the APA requires planning decisions at the state level. The report satisfies this logical inconsistency by omitting influences other than planners' desires.

  • The APA endorses draconian measures to enact their idealized planning goals.
    Lauding the American law Institute's Model Land Development Code, planners unabashedly support enforcement through the use of "enforcement orders" (11-4).

    The sample statute reads,

    "If the persons subject to the enforcement order have not complied by the date set in the order, the local government may enter upon the land in question and act to put it in compliance. The government also has a right to be compensated by the persons subject to the order for the expenses related to such an action and can place a lien on the property to enforce that right. Fines collectable in civil proceedings may also penalize noncompliance by the set date of the order. This fine is initially $500 and $200 per day of continuing violation. If the person is found to be a "persistent offender," the fine may be increased up to twice the gain the offender has made from his or her violation" (11-5).

    They praise as "innovative" a 1997 Maryland law which "authorizes municipalities, in cases of zoning violations, to 'provide for punishment by fine or imprisonment or both' and 'to provide civil penalties for such violation'" (11-5).
The APA's use of police power to force compliance with zoning laws dramatically undermines property rights.

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