Friday, July 13, 2007

Local Land Use

I have been mulling over a “land use” post for a good while. By the time that I finally got around to writing one, this piece by Randal O’Toole of the Cato Institute, "Debunking Portland: The City That Doesn't Work” came out and makes the same points I would have made, though better. Of course, the particulars between Portland and Athens-Clarke County differ, but the gist of the analysis is applicable in spades.

Regarding our experience locally, consider the following:

The one-size-fits-all stream buffer ordinance (you know, when the Commission completely ignored a year’s worth of work by the Stormwater Advisory Committee, which resulted in its recommended three-tiered approach, by simply making the supposedly “temporary” restrictions permanent - and never even bringing the recommended ordinance up for a vote)

The ordinance limiting development in the AR zones, the hallowed “green belt,” to one house per ten acres (one of my neighbors is considering asking to be annexed into the City of Winterville for the sole purpose of evading this ordinance, his family had planned for years to build a home for a family member on the couple of acres adjoining the family’s existing home – not any more!)

The conservation subdivision ordinance (in the several years since the adoption of the current ordinance in 2003, not a single conservation subdivision has been built in the county – and none is likely to be built in the foreseeable future because the requirements are so onerous and economically prohibitive)

Transferable Development Rights (we’ve been going around in circles on TDRs for years and no workable plan is in sight; on one hand we have down-zoned the potential “sending areas” to the point that they have little to no development value and on the other hand any attempt to increase density in the obvious “receiving areas” are fought tooth and nail)

Affordable housing (we have no shortage of rhetoric proclaiming our desire for it, but the fact of the matter is that our land use and development ordinances have all but driven affordable housing out of the county – the only solutions posed by the activist crowd is subsidies paid by the other residents of a given development or, better yet, the taxpayer)

The Comprehensive Plan/Future Land Use Map (recently, we have seen how rigid adherence to supposed “guidelines” can have detrimental effects in the real world, see specifically the denied re-zonings of ACTION, Inc., the Boys & Girls Clubs, and even the attempt of Emmanuel Episcopal Church to move its own housethat was thwarted by the historic preservation folks)

Public utilities (contrary to the explicit promises of unification, the Unified Government has reneged on it commitments to providing basic services to the formerly unincorporated areas of the county; those areas have had to wait for years for fire protection while folks in town got the Five Points Taj Mahal to replace an existing fire station just down the street; water lines will be extended along public roads – eventually - but if your property does not border a public road, as if often the case in rural areas, you are out of luck; 35 linear miles of sanitary sewer line were removed from the Public Utilities Department Service Delivery Plan in about 1999 or 2000 for the sole purpose of limiting development in the newly-christened “green belt;” see Chapters 8 and 9 of the Charter and the original Service Delivery Plan from 1995)

To my thinking, land use policies are first and foremost a function of property rights and government’s treatment thereof. As one would expect in a self-consciously “progressive” community, our betters have made the decision that “smart growth” and “new urbanism” collective rights outweigh individual rights, regardless of the consequences for property owners. The Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County continues to enact the same flawed policies as did Portland; we should expect the same results.

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Anonymous said...

Great post James. As much as folks brag on Pacific NW cities like Portland as the "model" of how Athens should be managed, there is never any credence paid to numerous available publications highlighting the failures of the policies they so admire. Policies such as "mixed income" housing etc.

Athens will never be Portland. It will never be Burlington VT. Our socio-economic problems will continue to burden us in ways that prohibit these programs that may (or may not) work in very different environments.


Anonymous said...

Add Clarke county's small size to the list of reasons why new urban style smart growth won't work to reduce sprawl or congestion in ACC.
ACC simply doesn't cover a broad enough geographic area to influence patterns of growth.

"Sprawl" development will simply leapfrog ACC's "greenbelt" into the neighboring counties of Jackson, Madison, Oglethorpe, and Oconee. I'm familiar with the land use maps for two of these counties, and they specifically call for growth on the ACC perimeter.

paveplanet said...

James -

Isn't Martin Meadows a conservation subdivision?

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

That is a really good post, and it is very strange to see the before and after situation as I remember back when Athens formulated all those plans. So many good ideas get wrecked in the details, hunh?

It is also interesting comparing and contrasting the big land use issues that affect cities like Athens and Portland vs cities like New Orleans, where I now live.

There are more similarities than you may imagine. Down in this part of the world, "stream buffers" also feature into the lead paragraph of any discussion of land use.

james said...

Is that the one off of Robert Hardeman Road? To the best of my knowledge, it is not a conservation subdivision.

james said...

A clarification:

Martin Meadows was approved as a conservation subdivision in 2002 under the ordinance in place at that time. The current ordinance was adopted in 2003.

Even the proposed Orange Twin Conservation Community, the first, and so far only, application the county has received under the current ordinance, asked for a variance to allow almost double the number of homes specified for such a development.

My recollection is that the Planning Department decided that Orange Twin did not meet the standards for a "conservation subdivision" and the application was withdrawn.

Anonymous said...

I don't think there can be any doubt that ACC land use policy has reduced the value of land in rural Clarke county by essentially driving the development value of the land to zero.

In addition to taking the development rights to the property, the Clarke school board's policy of administrative assignment (otherwise known as "controlled choice") has also reduced the residential value of land.

In essence, land in rural Clarke county should now be priced at it's agricultural and/or recreational value. Anyone with an internet connection can verify that land in Clarke county's "greenbelt" sells at a considerable discount as compared to property just across the county line.