On November 22, 2001, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), in conjunction with the American Planning Association (APA), released a 2,000 page "Legislative Guidebook" that property rights foes plan to use to promote so-called "smart growth" policies at local and state levels. The Guidebook encompasses numerous model land-use statutes and planning guidelines that seek to make uniform and centralize land- use policies at the expense of business, economic growth and private property rights. Furthermore, many of the provisions outlined in the guidebook and the process by which they were crafted, at first glance, appear to circumvent constitutional principles of due process, takings, First Amendment rights and state sovereignty.
The Guidebook was initiated in 1994 under the Clinton administration, when the APA, a no-growth organization, received nearly two million dollars in grant money, the majority of which came from HUD, to complete the project. APA and HUD spent seven years crafting the Guidebook without any consultation with landowners, farmers, small and minority business owners or any other party who would be most affected by state and/or local adoption of the statutes and guidelines.
The exclusion of such interests has resulted in a product that, if adopted -- in part or in whole -- could have a deleterious effect on businesses, stifle economic growth and trample the rights of private property owners. States and localities, such as Portland, Oregon -- a model "smart growth" community -- that have already bought into and adopted regional planning policies similar to those proposed in the APA Guidebook are currently experiencing the harmful consequences. According to the National Association of Homebuilders Housing Opportunity Index, Portland has gone from one of the nations most affordable housing markets to one the 10 least affordable in the country over the past twelve years. Traffic congestion has increased dramatically in the Portland metropolitan area over that same time. Results, many believe, are direct consequences of the "smart growth" philosophy of the areas regional planners: the same philosophy underlying the statutes and guidelines in the Legislative Guidebook.
Property rights advocates argue that many provisions in the Guidebook, if adopted, "will statutorily take private property without just compensation." One example they point to is an amortization plan pertaining to commercial signage and a moratorium on any new signs. The plan seeks initially to regulate all aspects of commercial signs and ultimately requires businesses to remove the signs all together. This provision would be devastating to small and minority business owners whose signage is, in many cases, their only affordable means of advertising. The amortization scheme raises several constitutional questions regarding both government takings without just compensation and First Amendment violations.
The APA is now pushing legislation in the United States Congress that can be characterized as a golden carrot for no-growth advocates to dangle above the heads of state and local legislators in an effort to convince them to adopt land-use provisions consistent with those outlined in the Legislative Guidebook. The Community Character Act, SB 975, and its House companion, HR 1433, would establish a $250 million grant program administered over ten years that will be doled out to state governments adopting land-use provisions consistent with the Guidebook. These bills are quickly moving through the legislative process, as the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee recently announced a March 6 hearing on the Community Character Act.
The Legislative Guidebook seeks to control many aspects of our lives through its land-use guidelines. Local planning should be just that, local. The one-size-fits-all model administered by federal, state and regional planners sought by the APA will cause enormous harm to local communities, small businesses and the overall economy. Worse, if adopted, the Guidebooks statutory suggestions may trample numerous constitutional protections, and thats reason enough to oppose it.February 15, 2002