by Sam Hieb
Remember how the ‘promise of residential development’ was a deal changer for the City of Winston-Salem when considering incentives for a downtown Mast General Store? I didn’t see the term ‘smart growth’ mentioned anywhere, but no doubt that was the thinking behind the city’s decision to offer up more than $1 million in incentives for a retail establishment, which goes City Manager Derwick Paige said runs counter to policy.
Yet another example of a city pushing smart growth. Just so happens Carolina Journal’s Michael Lowrey recently weighed in on smart growth:
“Smart growth represents a backward-looking model for economic development that attempts to turn North Carolina’s calendar back to the 19th century,” said report author Michael Lowrey, JLF economics and regulatory policy analyst. “But the densely built, rail transit-dependent cities promoted by smart growth do not represent how most people want to live.
….“Smart growth seeks more concentrated urban growth by increasing government regulation of development, housing, and transportation,” Lowrey explained. “Its policies restrict or eliminate development in new areas, thus driving up the cost of land. Smart growth increases government power and bureaucratic discretion. It ignores consumer preferences. All in all, there’s nothing smart about smart growth.”
Only a relatively small and constant percentage of Americans like the type of communities promoted by smart growth policies, Lowrey said. “Most Americans still prefer single-family detached houses with yards,” he said. “This is true even among a large plurality of Millennials, one of the top targets of smart growth advocates.”
Lowrey’s not just dissing smart growth; he’s offering up a better way—- flex growth.
The following nine recommendations should guide policymakers when they consider various responses to growth and development:
Let growth pay for itself — Local governments should adopt marginal cost pricing for public services to avoid distorting land development decisions and enable growth to pay for itself.
But without impact fees for schools — The concept of user fees — whether they are called “impact fees,” “real estate transfer fees,” or an “adequate public facilities ordinance” — should not extend to funding public school construction.
Reform zoning — Local zoning codes should be changed in several ways to take advantage of market incentives to reflect the true costs of development. Public policy should also afford communities the flexibility to adapt to the new demands and practical requirements they face.
Strengthen private property rights — The value of land is based upon its market potential, not its current use. For the full market potential of land to be realized, it must be available for sale, but to be available for sale, a clear set of private property rights must be in place.
Let the market provide open space — Each individual is willing to pay a different amount for open space, be it a private back yard or communal park land. The market is best suited to meet people’s actual demands rather than government mandates to provide a set communal open space.
Pursue economic policy neutrality — Policymakers should aim for strict neutrality in their economic development and industrial recruitment efforts. This includes local governments staying out of the utility and broadband businesses.
Avoid TIFs — Local governments should avoid tax increment financing (TIFs) to borrow money for economic development projects.
Ensure an adequate highway system — Transportation funding is finite. It follows then that the state and its localities should make the best possible use of this scarce resource by funding the projects that give the greatest return on investment.
Fund transit intelligently — The same resource usage considerations that drive our approach to roads should also drive our approach to transit: aim to fund only those projects that provide the most bang for the buck.