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Thread: Why can't local governments say no to development?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Why can't local governments say no to development?

    I know some of you are fortunate enough to work for forward thinking towns and cities but I think I express the frustrations of most local planners with the rant that follows...

    Let's face it- local governments can't say no to development. Despite adverse environmental impacts, questionable site designs, and limited public services to support new growth the local planning counter is nothing more than a rubber stamp. Runaway development has gotten so bad in some places (ahem-Florida-ahem) that the state has had to step in with growth management rules making municipalities prove in comp. plans that there is enough water, roads, and schools for new development.

    Of course, none of this matters at City Hall. Here the fantasy continues that growth will pay for itself. Those regional impacts? Well, they're just all in the imagination of that wacko Regional Planning Agency, and surely for someone else to worry about down the road at least. Growth management statutes? Just red tape that applicants hire a bunch of lawyers and shady planning consultants to get around with all sorts of "planning" studies.

    So why can't municipalities simply say no? What have our local governments capitulated to developers over other interests? Can this be explained by unique politics and/or power dynamics at work? I'm curious to hear what the throbbing brain thinks.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Well....

    Hmmm....:

    Top ten reasons a govt. won't/can't say no to development:

    1. Economic Development
    2. Search for the almighty tax dollar
    3. Competition for the almighty tax dollar
    4. Fear of loosing the almighty tax dollar
    5. Property rights = approval (Rural USA)
    6. Affraid to get sued or can't afford to get sued...
    7. Inferiority Complex about codes being so bad that they cannot reasonably be enforced. (We will make changes, but for now we approve the thing...)
    8. Redevelopment of a slum or ID'd area important enough to approve most any plan....
    9. Why say NO when it is so easy to say yes.
    10. NIMBY's/BANANA's et al just don't understand how important those extra tax base dollars are to the survival of the City

    Can you tell how important I think taxes are to most governments?
    Skilled Adoxographer

  3. #3
    Cyburbian SGB's avatar
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    Don't forget job creation, which provides individual incomes which can then be used to pay........










    (wait for it)











    taxes!
    All these years the people said he’s actin’ like a kid.
    He did not know he could not fly, so he did.
    - - Guy Clark, "The Cape"

  4. #4
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    But isn't it usually just residential sprawl? Haven't we evolved enough to realize that it's a wiley-coyote scenario of trying to keep up with growth to fund infrastructure? There's more at work than just tax base.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Well....

    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller View post
    But isn't it usually just residential sprawl? Haven't we evolved enough to realize that it's a wiley-coyote scenario of trying to keep up with growth to fund infrastructure? There's more at work than just tax base.
    I wish it were more complex, but so far from what I've seen and heard.....sadly.....it isn't......
    Skilled Adoxographer

  6. #6
    Cyburbian mallen's avatar
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    Why can't local governments say no to development?

    The 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says..."nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

    We can regulate, we can restrict, but we cannot simply say NO and expect that to hold up.

    You may have meant it less literally, but that is the short answer to a complex question.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mallen View post
    Why can't local governments say no to development?

    The 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says..."nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

    We can regulate, we can restrict, but we cannot simply say NO and expect that to hold up.

    You may have meant it less literally, but that is the short answer to a complex question.
    I'm not talking about takings at all. Local governments don't have to give away unsupportable densities or approve environmentally destructive land uses; the courts have consistently supported zoning and comprehensive planning. Of course we can say NO. But that doesn't mean the property owner isn't entitled to some property rights.

  8. #8
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    There are consequences to saying "no" too.

    Among them are:
    -Legal
    -The fact that restricting supply typically does not decrease demand- "The people have to go somewhere."

    Legislatures need to stop listening to the cries from relator and builder lobbies and allow for real impact fees to make development pay for itself.

    People have property rights and we cannot refuse to let them develop their land at all unless the taxpayers want to buy it.

    I am an elected official and I am already getting anonymous letters, websites, etc. over a proposed development we havent really even looked at yet. They think we can somehow magically freeze our wonderful little town in time and space and not let anyone more (or different) in. It's impossible. Theoretically, we could limit ultimate population, but as we are in a desirable area, the continually increasing demand would still lead to other consequences such as skyrocketing real estate and the corresponding demographic and local business character changes. The "character" of a town is more than just the physical space or traffic- it's also in the people who live there.

  9. #9
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    ***oh, that pesky 5th amendment, don't ya hate that - we collect taxes on highest and best use and then say, nope can't do that? sheesh

    but that's it really, if we are serious about limiting develpment, we can't tax that property like it's gonna be a Wal-mart someday because the zoning says you can do that there and then say no when Wal-Mart comes!

    zoning matters, if you zone it, don't bitch when they come -

    and the assessment system needs a complete overhaul

    but in the end, the best way to control development is to buy it (not take it) - if land is that important, then it's in the public interest, and the public should own it

    okay, I just woke up....

  10. #10
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Hmm.....

    Quote Originally posted by mallen View post
    Why can't local governments say no to development?

    The 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says..."nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

    We can regulate, we can restrict, but we cannot simply say NO and expect that to hold up.

    You may have meant it less literally, but that is the short answer to a complex question.
    In reality government says no to development all the time.....
    1. Let's make the process so difficult, including lawyer time, that they will just give in to what we want, some development of a different density or type....
    2. Land Use cases are denied all the time, plans are rejected all the time....
    3. There are never any simple NO's (at least that can stand up in court), all the good NO's involve well written findings and are backed by legitimate (we hope) facts/studies/plans.....

    Thing's it's ok to say NO to (things developers don't ask for because they know its stupid..):

    Landfills or transfer stations located in the CBD, simply becuase they are located close to the source of trash
    Residential homes located at the end of major airport runways....
    Major mining/drilling operations in the middle of a National Park because we're "using" our resources too quickly....
    Industrial uses in residential areas.....

    ah....on second thought....I've seen every one of these proposed at some point.....

    There is a FINE art in being able to say NO......this is a very important skill that every planner should fine tune if they want to be taken seriously....
    Skilled Adoxographer

  11. #11
    Because local governments, being democratic, have to treat everyone equally. What basis does a local government have to say no to a development when it said yes to another?

  12. #12
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Hmm....

    Quote Originally posted by jaws View post
    Because local governments, being democratic, have to treat everyone equally. What basis does a local government have to say no to a development when it said yes to another?
    We've got enough ______________ already.....adding more would increase the crime rate, disease rate and generally give me a headache.....

    Real answer.....not much basis when you think about it....
    Skilled Adoxographer

  13. #13
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jaws View post
    Because local governments, being democratic, have to treat everyone equally. What basis does a local government have to say no to a development when it said yes to another?
    Circumstances change; shouldn't planning be allowed to change as well? Assuming we are talking about the same proposal of course.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian mallen's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller View post
    I'm not talking about takings at all. Local governments don't have to give away unsupportable densities or approve environmentally destructive land uses; the courts have consistently supported zoning and comprehensive planning. Of course we can say NO. But that doesn't mean the property owner isn't entitled to some property rights.
    So what your real question is: "Why do local governments approve so many bad projects?"

    A. Because so many of them just plain suck at planning.

  15. #15
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mallen View post
    So what your real question is: "Why do local governments approve so many bad projects?"

    A. Because so many of them just plain suck at planning.
    ouch - planning isn't permitting -

    the power is in the comp plan and its companion zoning, CIP and other fiscal policy decisions - by the time you get to permitting, it should be a done deal because you planned for it through your zoning and your infrastructure

  16. #16
    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller View post
    Circumstances change; shouldn't planning be allowed to change as well? Assuming we are talking about the same proposal of course.
    That doesn't matter. Who is to decide what the circumstances require? Maybe the circumstances require the councillor to approve a project by his brother but not by his brother's competition. Who would grant him that kind of power?

    The only thing that can justifiably be done is to create a bureaucratic code that applies to everyone equally, and if someone can demonstrate they are up to code the officials have no choice but to approve it.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jaws View post
    That doesn't matter. Who is to decide what the circumstances require? Maybe the circumstances require the councillor to approve a project by his brother but not by his brother's competition. Who would grant him that kind of power?

    The only thing that can justifiably be done is to create a bureaucratic code that applies to everyone equally, and if someone can demonstrate they are up to code the officials have no choice but to approve it.
    Governments decide based on circumstances all the time. Maybe that previously approval turned out a complete mess. Or the CIP fund is drained and the developer won't put up the cash. Your not going to convince me that planning should be immune from circumstanes.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian
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    I'd like to split the hair here a little bit. There is a huge difference to saying "no" to growth and development and approving bad projects. The former is unrealistic. Planning starts with projections, of jobs, of households, of people. So we all must prepare, direct, and plan for where that growth should go. No is not an answer.

    The latter is the problem IMO. We all really need to raise our collective expectations relative to form, design, architecture, streetscape etc...Development can be prettier, more efficient etc...and those things are clearly in the public interest.

  19. #19
    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller View post
    Governments decide based on circumstances all the time. Maybe that previously approval turned out a complete mess. Or the CIP fund is drained and the developer won't put up the cash. Your not going to convince me that planning should be immune from circumstanes.
    That's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is that elected officials cannot be trusted to judge circumstances in the general interest, which is why bureaucratic codes are developed and why development can't be stopped unless they break the code.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jaws View post
    That's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is that elected officials cannot be trusted to judge circumstances in the general interest, which is why bureaucratic codes are developed and why development can't be stopped unless they break the code.
    You must REALLY REALLY hate Planned Unit Developments......sometimes they drive me nuts too..... Elected officials are the closest real world example of the "general interest" of a community.....aren't they..... I mean, what else would pass for the "general interest?" Developers?

    A Comprehensive Plan should be the closest written version of the "general interest" of a community.

    Now, codes, comp. plans and elected officials are only a snapshot of the "general interest" at the time of election or adoption, but that is as good as it will get.....I'm affraid to say..... The only way it could be more pure is through Anarchy or Dictatorships.....
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 15 Sep 2006 at 9:16 PM.
    Skilled Adoxographer

  21. #21
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jaws View post
    That's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is that elected officials cannot be trusted to judge circumstances in the general interest, which is why bureaucratic codes are developed and why development can't be stopped unless they break the code.
    Ok, I'll accept this as a rationalization for bureaucratic codes. However, codes are often at the whim of public officials. And public participation in the planning process often means that circumstances play a big role, like it or not.

  22. #22
    Corn Burning Fool giff57's avatar
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    My thoughts as a City Manager:

    1. Regional impacts cannot be considered unless all the cities in the region agree to a denial. So if there is reasonable assurance that the bad thing is going to be in the region, it's better you get the taxes than the town next door.

    2. In most places caps on the tax levy are in place, so if a city's revenue is going to keep up with inflation, the tax base must be expanded. Folks will not tolerate increased tax levys or reduced services, but most do not care if Walmart builds on the fringe.

    As others have said, we can only direct the growth and try to get the best designs that we can.
    “As soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather serve with their money than with their persons, the State is not far from its fall”
    Jean-Jacques Rousseau

  23. #23
    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller View post
    Ok, I'll accept this as a rationalization for bureaucratic codes. However, codes are often at the whim of public officials. And public participation in the planning process often means that circumstances play a big role, like it or not.
    Well the thing is the only way to ensure without a code that each project is in the "general interest" is to hold a referendum on each proposal. Obviously that is completely impractical, so instead a code is written that each elector can know of should he be interested in finding out. That is still impractical, but the best way to handle a public system.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Hmmm....

    Quote Originally posted by jaws View post
    Well the thing is the only way to ensure without a code that each project is in the "general interest" is to hold a referendum on each proposal. Obviously that is completely impractical, so instead a code is written that each elector can know of should he be interested in finding out. That is still impractical, but the best way to handle a public system.
    I've seen major developments denied by initiative and referendum after approval by City Council.....That option is available in many states for every rezoning or land use proposal....its part of the system....so I think this has gone full circle....
    Skilled Adoxographer

  25. #25
    Quote Originally posted by The One View post
    You must REALLY REALLY hate Planned Unit Developments......sometimes they drive me nuts too..... Elected officials are the closest real world example of the "general interest" of a community.....aren't they..... I mean, what else would pass for the "general interest?" Developers?
    The obvious truth is that there is no general interest, only many individual interests that may or may not coincide.
    Now, codes, comp. plans and elected officials are only a snapshot of the "general interest" at the time of election or adoption, but that is as good as it will get.....I'm affraid to say..... The only way it could be more pure is through Anarchy or Dictatorships.....
    Anarchy and dictatorship have nothing in common other than decision-making is left up to individuals (a single individual in the latter case). That is what we call an exchange, or free market, economy. It is very fast and makes possible economic calculation and capital accumulation.
    Quote Originally posted by The One View post
    I've seen major developments denied by initiative and referendum after approval by City Council.....That option is available in many states for every rezoning or land use proposal....its part of the system....so I think this has gone full circle....
    That it can happen with sufficient outrage and citizen effort does not make it any less impractical.

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