..."smart-growth" activists and some on Capitol Hill...want Washington bureaucrats to determine how land will be developed and used at the state and local levels. If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Bribe ‘Em. . .

And do it with taxpayer money.

That seems to be the mindset of "smart-growth" activists and some on Capitol Hill who want Washington bureaucrats to determine how land will be developed and used at the state and local levels. Their goal: federally prescribed land use restrictions in every state and locality across the nation.

Under the guise of promoting "improved quality of life" and "sustainable economic development," the Community Character Act (S. 975), sponsored by Senator Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), would authorize a $125 million federal grant program to be doled out to state and tribal governments willing to "update" their land use planning regulations to, among other things, integrate "state, regional, tribal or local land use plans with federal land use plans." Grants of up to $1 million would be awarded annually, over a five-year period, with preference given to states that have "inadequate and outmoded land use planning legislation" and are "experiencing significant economic growth."

The Secretary of Commerce would be tasked with subjectively defining the above-mentioned preferred factors, thus establishing the roadmap for state and local planning authorities to get their share of the cash. The Secretary would work in coordination with the Secretaries of Transportation and Agriculture, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, other heads of federal agencies and nonprofit organizations that promote land use planning. (We don’t believe we’re one of those nonprofits they have in mind.)

The Community Character Act has radical environmentalists and no-growth advocates licking their chops in anticipation of its passage. They plan to use the new federal money to entice state and local legislators to adopt anti-development, anti-growth agendas that have proved devastating to local economies and the rights of private property owners. It makes you wonder why their agenda carries the euphemistic label of "smart" growth, when the end result is more likely "no" growth.

Not everyone is as excited as the no-growth environmentalists.

On March 6th, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing on the Community Character Act. Ironically, the only person Committee Chairman "Jumping" Jim Jeffords (I-VT) allowed to testify against the legislation was David Sampson, the Commerce Department’s Assistant Secretary of Economic Development — the very agency that would be tasked with administering the grants. Recognizing that community planning is a local issue, Sampson expressed the Bush administration’s opposition to S. 975, calling it "a centralized approach to land use planning." Instead, the administration supports "locally devised plans that are market based."

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez, who falls into the category of "other heads of federal agencies," also opposes the Community Character Act. According to Secretary Martinez, "The standardization of land use planning would begin to define what constitutes ‘good’ growth management decisions. The problem is, of course, that what would be ‘good’ for one community could be ‘bad’ for another." But what does he know? Martinez was only a County Executive in Orange County, Florida, who dealt with land use and planning issues every day.

The federal government should not have the authority to dictate to localities how to plan for growth. While the Community Character Act recognizes that "land use planning is rightfully within the jurisdiction of state, tribal and local governments," its intent is to develop a one-size-fits-all, top-down approach to state and local planning. Such federal intervention, whether directly or through monetary incentives, will disenfranchise those most important in the planning process — local governments and local citizens — as state legislators will no doubt be scrambling to get the cash.

April 25, 2002
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