Anti-Growth Propositions Still Worry Lenders

Article excerpt

If bankers dodged some bullets when state initiatives aimed at curbing urban sprawl were defeated on Tuesday, many came away far more aware of the risks of letting the debate over such issues spiral into grass-roots crusades.

The most onerous of the initiatives, in Arizona and Colorado, failed to pass. But similar measures -- which some consider a threat to economic growth -- could surface with backing from activists and frustrated voters. That has some business interests reaching out to legislatures rather than take any chances on what remedies voter referendums may bring.

Jonathan Weiss, executive director of the George Washington Center on Sustainability and Regional Growth, in Washington, said Colorado seems to already have moved in that direction.

The Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry is working on a plan that moves away from the strict imposition of urban growth boundaries contained in the Colorado proposition. The Denver-based group, which represents businesses including mortgage bankers, led efforts against that proposition.

The Mortgage Bankers Association and the U.S. Conference of Mayors last month announced they had teamed up to craft a national housing agenda addressing, among other issues, the importance of investing in smart growth to combat urban sprawl.

Some lenders say that for any real progress to be made, all parties -- public officials, mortgage lenders, developers, and citizens -- have to communicate better.

Echoing this sentiment, Andrew Woodward, chairman and chief executive officer of Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America Mortgage and president of the Mortgage Bankers Association, said, "The key is not to stop growth but to manage" it.

Advocates of the business-government partnership approach acknowledge it is not without its flaws.

"If you have lots of angry people that are not informed" about what is realistically possible, "there will be lots of lawsuits, a situation that doesn't help anyone very much," said Karl Zavitkovsky, managing director of Bank of America's southwestern real estate group

Measures lacking an informed view on lenders' and developers needs, he added, can hamper efforts aimed at balancing concerns over traffic congestion, air quality, and similar issues.

Smart urban growth, characterized by high-density, mixed-use, and pedestrian-friendly developments built around transportation hubs, has become hot-button issue. Phyllis Myers, a researcher who prepared a comprehensive report on the ballot measures for the Brookings Institution, said that was underscored Tuesday. Voters weighed in on 35 measures in 23 states and hundreds of initiatives covering matters ranging from open space to public transportation.

"Local voters, in some cases working in the regional level, are seriously concerned about growth," said David Booher, a prominent California housing advocate and executive director at the 2000 Project in Sacramento. …