Urban Planning And Growth Management Research Paper

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‘Growth management’ aims to influence the location, magnitude, and timing of urban development through land use and capital facility planning, and development permitting. Unlike conventional planning whereby land is designated for particular land uses and facilities are extended when market demand dictates, growth management is a more conscious effort to shape development patterns during discrete intervals of time based on explicit urban form objectives.

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1. Historical Context

The earliest growth management effort might have been recorded in the Old Testament:

The Lord said to Moses … Command the people of Israel, that they give to the Levites … cities to dwell in; and pasture lands round about the cities … . The pasture lands of the cities … shall reach from the wall of the city outward a thousand cubits all around (Numbers 35: 1–4)

This command is clearly aimed at containing urban development within a boundary so that farming can occur around it. Britain’s 1947 Planning Act extended this concept nationally by nationalizing greenbelt land combined and directing local government to contain urban development within stoplines.

American experience is less draconian. The earliest growth management effort appears to have came out of Milford, Connecticut in the early 1950s, which mapped high and low priority development areas. Development in low priority areas needed to demonstrate that adequate public facilities existed to serve it without prematurely directing development away from existing urban areas. Moreover, approved projects could only be constructed in increments of 20 percent annually.

More famous is the plan devised by Ramapo township, New York, in the mid-1960s. It provided for township buildout over an 18-year period. A capital improvements program helped to pace buildout during that period. Developers had to demonstrate that their project was consistent with the buildout plan (through a point system) and, if not, either wait for infrastructure to reach their site or install it themselves at their own cost.

A version of growth management, called ‘growth control,’ came from Petaluma, California, in the early 1970s which capped development at 500 dwelling units annually. The cap was suballocated to different housing types to assure reasonable diversity of housing opportunities.

2. Statewide Efforts

Only a few American states engage in growth management on a statewide level, although that number is rising.

Hawaii, the nation’s newest state, has the nation’s oldest statewide growth management and for good reason: it is composed of islands for which there are very few alternatives to sharing development needs with agricultural and environmental needs. Through efforts by a state planning agency pursuant to the Hawaiian Land-Use Law of 1961, all land on major islands is designated for urban, agriculture, low density rural, and conservation land uses. Counties (individual islands) have very little say about those allocations.

The state with the longest history of statewide growth management among the contiguous 48 states is Oregon. The Land Conservation and Development Act of 1973 established a state commission and an administrative department. The commission’s primary role is articulating statewide planning goals (the original 15 goals have grown to 20) and deciding whether locally prepared land use and facility plans meet them. Like Hawaii, land in the state is designated essentially for urban, agriculture forestry, low density rural, and conservation uses. Unlike Hawaii, local governments have a significant say in how those allocations are made. Communities devising plans that provide more land for urban and low density rural development than needed are instructed to eliminate excess supply or face suspension of development permitting authority. Today, Oregon’s land use pattern is a system of urban centers contained within urban growth boundaries (UGBs) surrounded by open space.

In the early 1990s, Washington state adopted its Growth Management Act which has many of the same features as Oregon, including UGBs and open space preservation. In the late 1990s, Tennessee adopted similar legislation.

Florida’s growth management efforts, stemming from the 1970s and revamped in the mid-1980s, are relatively weak in containing urban development or preserving open space from low density rural development. Its ‘concurrency’ provisions, however, which limits new development to only those areas where adequate public facilities exist or are planned, appears to have shifted development away from many open spaces to infill and redevelopment sites.

Maryland’s ‘smart-growth’ initiative, launched in the late 1990s, provides state infrastructure funds for only those projects that redirect development to infill and redevelopment sites and away from open spaces.

3. Regional Efforts

There are very few regional growth management efforts, mostly because they require state-level legislation and commitment among competing local governments to cooperate. The most notable regional growth management effort is that of the Twin Cities Metropolitan Council, coordinating planning, infrastructure investment, and development permitting among the 187 municipalities and seven counties composing the Minneapolis–St. Paul metropolitan area. The Council works to contain urban growth within 10-year urban service limits that are adjusted about every 5 years. The Council was formed in 1967 but not until the late 1990s did it have the authority to manage the region’s water, sewer, and transportation operations.

4. Local Efforts

Local government growth management efforts are quite numerous. Early efforts include Milford, Ramapo, and Petaluma reviewed above. Other notable areas include Sacramento, California, Boulder, Colorado, Sarasota, Florida, and Lincoln, Nebraska, all of which employ UGBs with open space preservation. It is possible that every state has at least one example of a local municipal or county growth management program. The primary limitation of all such programs is that unless neighboring jurisdictions also engage in growth management, there is confusion on long-term development and investment expectations.

5. Primary Elements

Growth management is composed of six elements: (a) overall form; (b) growth guidance; (c) infrastructure provision; (d) protecting open spaces; (e) enhancing community life; and (f ) coordination between governments.

5.1 Overall Form

A common feature of growth management programs is the containment of urban development within American-style urban growth boundaries, Britishstyle development stoplines, or more flexible urban service limits. Collectively they can be called ‘urban containment boundaries’ or UCBs. UCBs are complemented by urban facility service area plans that control the timing of utility extensions and infrastructure improvements. Land within the UCB may be subdivided into different categories for the phasing of services, depending on development suitability, proximity to existing public facilities, contiguity with existing development, and other factors. Sufficient land must be included within a UCB to accommodate market demand within the planning horizon. If too little land is included, land prices may increase beyond the ability of the market to accommodate development needs. Too much land defeats the purposes of encouraging compact, contiguous development and usually results in excessive and premature capital outlays for public services.

5.2 Growth Guidance

Growth guidance relates to the timing, phasing, and dimensioning of development within UCBs. Within UCBs may be intermediate containment boundaries (ICBs) which, as their name suggests, are short-term development boundaries within the long-term UCB. In contrast, outside UCBs, there may be urban development reserves (UDRs) where future urban development will be targeted once the UCB is filled in.

Growth management usually results in ‘upzoning’ land within UCBs and ‘downzoning’ land outside. The reason is simple. Land intended for urban development should accommodate more intense activity and land not intended for urban development should be prevented from urban development.

The ‘upzoning/downzoning’ requirement permeates through other land use policies. For example, conventional planning uses transitional zoning to buffer land-use activities from each other and to facilitate a concentric-ring urban form wherein uses farther away are at lower densities than closer in. Transitional zoning is not generally compatible with growth management, however. The result of transitional zoning is that low-and very-low-density land uses expand into rural areas and into resource lands, thereby perpetuating urban sprawl and undermining the long-term economic viability of resource production. Instead, growth management programs use nontransitional zoning strategies which, among other things (a) establish moderate to high-density and-intensity land-use categories throughout much of the urban area, (b) facilitate nodal and corridor development especially along transit routes and major multimodal intersections that are themselves surrounded by moderate to high-density-zoning, (c) reduce the scale of low and very low urban densities within urban areas, (d) eliminate low-and very-low-density development in areas that are predominantly resource lands or other environmentally sensitive lands, and (e) restrict the size and location of low-and very-low- density development outside urban containment boundaries and away from resource or environ- mentally sensitive lands.

Growth management also challenges conventional ‘Euclidian’ zoning—so called after the US Supreme Court’s decision upholding zoning of the sort challenged in City of Euclid, Ohio, s. Ambler Realty Company. Euclidian zoning is a pyramid of allowable land uses. At the top is residential land use; land zoned for residential is restricted to residential uses. Commercial zoning allows commercial and residential uses. Industrial zoning allows industrial, commercial, and residential land uses. Agricultural zoning allows all land uses. The problem is that many land uses allowed in some zones are incompatible with the primary purpose of that zone, such as a residential development in an industrial zone. The trend is now towards exclusive use zoning of open spaces and inclusionary zoning allowing the mixing of land uses in urban areas. Growth management thus reshapes Euclidian zoning. Growth management also aims to eliminate exclusivity. Many communities use zoning strategies to exclude certain classes of people, especially those occupying low-income housing. A typical strategy is to zone the community for large lot sizes and large minimum floor areas. Low-income households will, thus, be unable to afford to live in the community. Growth management recognizes the need to provide housing to all income levels. Many growth management communities have ‘inclusionary zoning’ policies that require large-scale projects have housing opportunities affordable to a wide range of house- holds.

Finally, it is one thing to designate land for moderate to high density and give developers the impression that they have flexibility in meeting market demands but it is quite another to actually allow such densities. Unwary developers who propose high-density developments can get stalled in decision-making, often because existing residents oppose such developments. Housing density usually is reduced but this defeats the purpose of growth management. The solution is ‘minimum density zoning.’ For example, if the maximum residential density allowed is 8.0 units per acre of land, the minimum may be 5.0 and the community average target for this category of zoning may be 6.5 units.

5.3 Infrastructure Provision

Growth management cannot succeed without infrastructure planning and financing that makes urban development more attractive than development in the countryside. On the other hand, development must not exceed the ability of existing infrastructure to accommodate it. ‘Adequate public facilities’ standards assure that, in addition to meeting applicable zoning and subdivision standards, facilities and services are able to serve it. ‘Concurrency’, whereby facilities needed to serve new development are in place or committed concurrent with the impacts of new development, is another version of the same principle.

Under growth management, infrastructure is a shared responsibility between government and developers. One form of shared responsibility is ‘development exactions’ in which the developer provides a certain range of infrastructure at their cost. Infrastructure within the development is normally the developer’s responsibility but the responsibility for financing offsite roads, water, sewer, schools, parks, and other facilities is complex.

‘Special taxing or assessment districts’ are one way in which onsite and offsite infrastructure costs can be absorbed via long-term, below-market interest rates financed by new development. ‘Impact fees,’ which are one-time assessments on new development to pay for new or expanded facilities needed to serve new development, help cover a share of the offsite costs.

5.4 Protecting Open Spaces

What happens outside UCBs? Growth management is not effective unless it preserves open spaces and manages rural density development. Some states, such as Hawaii and Oregon, are very aggressive in preventing any development of open spaces. In those states, ‘exclusive farm forest use’ regulations require owners of such land to manage it for farming and forestry if they wish to live on it.

Economic mechanisms can be used to encourage development inside UCBs and prevent development outside. ‘Purchase of development right’ programs involve public acquisition of the development rights of open spaces. ‘Transfer of development right’ programs involve developers acquiring development rights from open space owners in rural areas for transfer to areas within UCBs at higher density.

Not all land outside UCBs is appropriate for farming, forestry, or other open space uses. Indeed, there is some demand for rural living that if not accommodated would result in urban households acquiring farms and then maintaining only the yard they wish, typically one-quarter to one-half acre. ‘Clustered’ development in rural areas is one solution. For example, a 100-acre farm may be subdivided into 10 parcels of which nine are one-acre and one is 91 acres, which in many parts of the country is sufficiently large to accommodate reasonable commercial farming operations.

5.5 Enhancing Community Life

Growth management changes existing neighborhoods. Oddly, many neighborhoods view growth management anathema to their quality of life, especially if infill and redevelopment activities locate there. ‘Design review processes’ help assure that new development in stable neighborhoods enhances neighborhood character. ‘Supplemental housing’ such as mother-in-law, over-garage, basement, or attic living units allowed in established neighborhoods improve property values, increase safety (more ‘eyes-on-the-street’), make more efficient use of infrastructure, and generally assure neighborhood stability thereby increasing neighborhood vitality.

5.6 Coordination Between Governments

Growth management is not effective in isolation. Because a number of governmental units interact with each other at various levels, effective growth management results in all relevant governmental units sharing the same vision for a preferred built and natural environment given the need to accommodate projected development. Cross-acceptance is one way in which this is achieved. Conceptually, cross-acceptance means that all units of government affecting a particular community—including state, regional, local, and special district governments (such as school districts, water districts, fire protection districts and the like)—agree to each other’s plans and they all agree to share the vision of the region’s future built and natural environment.

6. Benefits

For a long time, the benefits of growth management in the United States seemed illusory. Recent studies indicate, however, that growth management of the kind described here reduces tax burdens, reduces air and water pollution, reduces vehicle-miles-traveled per household, increases incomes, and improves quality of life across many measurable dimensions.

7. Challenges

Growth management is not without challenges. Growth management policies per se do not solve problems associated with rapid growth or urban sprawl. Growth management requires that development be encouraged in urban areas and discouraged in rural areas. This can engender opposition from stable neighborhoods because of potential threats. It also requires patience. The positive effects of growth management take about 20 years to realise. Unless there is political will to sustain growth management efforts, benefits will remain illusory.


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