Growth Management: A Primer for Journalists

By Wiewel, Wim | The Quill, May 1998 | Go to article overview

Growth Management: A Primer for Journalists


Wiewel, Wim, The Quill


Land use and development stories are showing up on beats as diverse as transportation, housing, politics, law, business and agriculture. As population pressures force urban, suburban and rural areas and interests within them to compete for land and its uses, more journalists will need to understand the forces that shape growth policies. This News]Backgrounder by an urban planning expert is designed to help journalists understand basic considerations that go into thinking about management of growth.

Growth management is an explicit, ongoing program to shape or control growth through some combination of intervention techniques and policies. The term has been interpreted in a variety of ways since the 1960s. It is usually applied to efforts to establish balance in development. Some interpretations of balanced development place greater weight on distribution of industry, population, or social benefits. Others emphasize such aspects as growth limits or the carrying capacity of the natural environment.

In practice, communities use growth management programs for a variety of objectives, from directing growth to preventing it. Growth management programs are now widespread after withstanding challenges in hundreds of court cases examining the legality of local governments entering into new areas of land use regulation. Growth management programs fall into the following categories:

Constraints on the intensity of development permitted through zoning or limitations on subdivisions;

Design and capacity standards for lots and buildings;

Requiring adequate public facilities or imposing impact fees in order to restrain growth and shift costs from the public to the development project;

Reducing the supply of developable land and/or restricting the places where development is permitted, through caps on population growth, square footage or housing units, or annual permits.

Ten states now have explicit legislation enabling growth management. They are California, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. The most widely used growth management policies include concurrency planning, regional review, urban growth boundaries, and greenbelts. Florida uses concurrency planning, in which public services and infrastructure must be provided at the same time as new development comes on line. Several states also use forms of regional review that allow neighboring communities to participate in the planning process when a new development affects their community.

Oregon has the most extensive growth management controls in the country. Legislation passed in 1973 requires that each municipality evaluate its growth needs and draw urban growth boundaries to contain anticipated development. State funding for infrastructure, transit, and other services is then directed within the boundaries. The system requires that state agencies respond to local planning but also forces local planning to meet state standards.

Greenbelts are used sporadically in North America. The Greater Vancouver (Washington) Regional District used a multi-stakeholder process to identify regional growth concerns and priorities. Member localities identified lands to include in a Green Zone surrounding the metropolitan area. They also committed themselves to find individual methods for protecting the greenbelt. Toronto uses a similar system, although incursions into the greenbelt are not uncommon. Marin County, California has an extensive greenbelt controlling growth areas in the county. Boulder, Seattle, Cincinnati, and Boston also have greenbelt/greenway strategies.

A variant on the establishment of greenbelts is programs to preserve farmlands or environmentally sensitive areas within or next to metropolitan areas. The 1996 farm bill contains $35 million over six years to assist state and local programs that pay farmers not to sell to developers. Over the past 20 years, a total of 450,000 acres in 18 states has been preserved through the purchase of development rights. …

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