Pros, cons of smart growth debated
http://www.dailyadvance.com | Elizabeth City News Online
By DAVID MACAULAY, Staff Writer
Saturday, May 26, 2007
CAMDEN NC — With Camden officials still undecided about whether to incorporate "smart growth" principles into future planning decisions, commissioners heard from two policy think tanks this week that hold very different views about the proposal's effectiveness.
On Monday, officials with the Washington, D.C.-based Smart Growth Institute made the argument for smart growth principles, telling commissioners that the policy allows for concentrated growth while reducing the potential for sprawl.
The next night, representatives of the N.C. Farm Bureau and the conservative-leaning John Locke Foundation spoke against the proposal, telling commissioners that it would hurt farmers' ability to sell their land and be an unnecessary limit on developers' freedom.
At issue is an ordinance drawn up by Camden Planning Director Dan Porter that aims to concentrate denser housing development in the county's three "core villages" — Camden Courthouse, South Mills and Shiloh — while restricting it in many other parts of the county. According to Porter's proposal, development outside of the core villages would be limited to one home for every 10 acres.
Porter's "smart growth" ordinance originally was intended to be in place by the time Camden's moratorium on new subdivisions ended. But the measure expired in April with commissioners still divided about some aspects of the proposal.
During his presentation to commissioners Monday, the Smart Growth Institute's Benjamin de la Pena said concentrating growth in three areas would allow Camden to reduce the potential for sprawl while protecting more open space for recreational use. Smart-growth communities are also better for the environment because they encourage businesses and residential areas to locate within walking distance, thereby reducing residents' need to drive.
Smart growth allows a community "to enjoy the benefits of growth without having to sacrifice the whole community," de la Pena said.
Susan Weaver, also of the Smart Growth Institute, said concentrating growth would help preserve Camden's agricultural heritage.
"You have to ask yourself a question: Do we want to keep agriculture as part of Camden County? If we keep gobbling it up in one acre lots, at some point you are going to have parcels that are no longer economical to farm."
Several commissioners still appeared skeptical, however.
"The problem is those core areas will be overdeveloped," Carolyn Riggs said.
Riggs said she likes the idea of compact development, but would prefer that it not be restricted to just the three areas.
De la Pena said the Smart Growth Institute had not talked about where denser growth in Camden should go.
"That's a decision you have to make," he said.
On Tuesday night, Chad Adams and Michael Sanera of the John Locke Foundation argued that smart growth policies "limit freedom" and "don't like cars."
Adams also said the high residential densities associated with smart growth policies create environments where it is "increasingly difficult to conduct business." And, notwithstanding the warnings about sprawl, Camden is likely to remain a sparsely populated county for some time to come, he said.
"The projected density for your county in 2030 is supposed to be 65 people per square mile. In Pasquotank County it will be 227 (people per square mile) in 2030," Adams said. "Wake County is 917 people per square mile. (It) will be about 1688 in 2030."
The John Locke Foundation also claims that cities in the state like Wilmington and Asheville that have adopted smart-growth policies have seen marked increases in property values but no similar impact on household incomes.
Steve Woods of the N.C. Farm Bureau also addressed commissioners. He said the group is concerned that smart-growth policies restrict farmers' ability to sell their land.
"If you can only sell 10-acre plots that policy robs farmers of an investment and makes their land less valuable," Woods said.
Camden commissioners are likely to consider Porter's smart-growth ordinance at their next meeting on June 4.
(Contact David Macaulay at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Let's see now, sprawl harms agriculture, so the town is attempting to guide growth so that agriculture remains viable, so the farmers are upset with the town for trying to guide growth.
I got it.