2050: Disciplined growth creates prosperity
Originally published May 25, 2013 in SRQ Daily
In the annals of smart growth planning, community planning that delivers high quality of life and attracts high wage, high tech jobs, Portland has set the standard. For more than 30 years, Portland has implemented policies focused on maximizing urban resources and preserving rural lands. Portland’s successful growth policies contain important lessons about economic diversification, attracting educated professionals and their businesses, and creating walkable urban centers for young professionals, families and retirees who want to age in place. How does Portland do it and what can Sarasota learn from Portland’s success?
While Phoenix, Denver, Las Vegas and other western cities embarked on a path of unchecked sprawl development (with accompanying congestion, pollution and diminished quality of life) Portland charted a different course. Bucking pressure from commercial and development interests, Portland implemented an urban growth boundary established in the ’70s—a boundary between higher density areas and rural lands. Portland encouraged smart, mixed used development within the UGB, while preserving open space, rural lifestyles and agricultural use outside the UGB. Critics said Portland’s UGB and strict laws against sprawl would kill jobs and ruin property values. But Portland prospered. Homes values soared while high-tech businesses sprang up within the UGB. Many of the newer companies—among them Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Hyundai—say they relocated because of the unspoiled lands adjacent to the contained urban areas. Employers sought relocation to a community that could attract educated workers as interested in quality of life as a paycheck.
Portland continues its strict policies against sprawl and routinely evaluates the position of the UGB to ensure there is enough buildable land to meeting housing demand. The UGB is moves when existing potential housing units are insufficient to meet future demand. And Portland has established performance benchmarks to evaluate how its growth policies are working. Infill development is preferred, efficiently maximizing existing infrastructure. Why pay for new roads, schools and services if existing infrastructure is underutilized?
In contrast, Sarasota County’s recent decision to consider loosening development restrictions in our rural lands—those east of Interstate-75—doesn’t appear to be prompted by the same standards. County data shows 44,800 total potential new housing units, three times the projected 10-year demand of 15,300 units. A series of meetings with landowners east of I-75 resulted in conclusions that 2050 (the County’s land use plan) “isn’t working,” but concrete evidence is lacking. How does Sarasota County measure the success of it’s growth policies? The specifics of how 2050 “isn’t working” remain a mystery.
While a relative few advocate loudly for new development east of I-75, empty strip malls along U.S. 41 tell a different story. Banks are sitting on significant residential foreclosures yet to be released. Many neighborhoods west of I-75 are still recovering from the great recession. Stalled infill development and scant affordable, mixed use housing indicate a need for redevelopment in Sarasota County’s cities. What would Portland do? Portland’s example indicates the importance of holding the line on rural development until existing infill and redevelopment needs are met, until the next wave of foreclosures are fully absorbed, until future housing demand exceeds supply.
Perhaps most concerning for all Sarasota taxpayers, the fiscal neutrality requirements of Sarasota 2050 are being reconsidered. Fiscal neutrality requires developers of new high density development east of I-75 to pay for new infrastructure. But those pushing for easing restrictions on development east of I-75 are also asking County taxpayers to pick up the new infrastructure tab. Tossing fiscal neutrality is bad news for all County taxpayers, and could be considered triple taxation for Sarasota’s municipalities (Sarasota, Longboat Key, Venice and North Port). We already pay taxes twice—to our city and the county. Why should city dwellers pick up the infrastructure tab for sprawl development east of I-75, excess development that will undermine our own neighborhoods and downtown centers?
Is that what Portland would do?
To see what Portland does, check out their website: http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/57352