Governors and legislatures across the nation have been trying to figure out the best way to manage land-use in areas where urban sprawl is gobbling up open space and leaving behind deteriorating city centers. But finding a way to manage land-use is controversial. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports on one state’s attempt to tackle the problem:
Governors and legislatures across the nation have been trying to figure out the best way to
manage land use in areas where urban sprawl is gobbling up open space and leaving behind
deteriorating city centers. But finding a way to manage land use is controversial. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports on one state’s attempt to tackle the problem:
The Governor of Michigan made it clear while she was a candidate that she wanted to tackle the problem of urban sprawl. Shortly after her inauguration, Governor Jennifer Granholm established what she calls a Michigan Land Use Leadership Council. It’s made up of home-builders, developers, farmers, environmentalists and others. The council’s job is to find a consensus on the best ways to make the best use of land in Michigan so that the state doesn’t lose any more farmland and open space than necessary.
Hans Voss was appointed to the council. He’s with the Michigan Land Use Institute, a group
advocating the principles of Smart Growth… getting government to take a more active role in
preserving open space and redeveloping blighted urban areas. He says he expects the council to come up with recommendations that everyone can live with… and still adhere to Smart Growth principles…
“And it’s not a regulatory approach. But, if you put real, substantive
financial incentive on the table by reallocating our existing state dollars,
we will then put together the local coalition to
actually implement the recommendations. It’s all about incentives.”
Voss says local governments too often encourage urban sprawl by putting the
wrong incentives in place for builders and developers. He’s optimistic that the
various interests represented on the
governor’s new council will find common ground and solve some of the problems.
Keith Charters is also a member of the council. He currently serves as chair of
the state’s Natural Resource Commission. He agrees the council will
find consensus and make good recommendations to the Michigan legislature.
But he’s concerned that much of the agreement
will be lost in the legislative process.
“The recommendations are not going to get through the sausage grinder of
the legislature overnight. It’s not a 30-day process and some of the
recommendations may take two or three
years. That’s a lot of time for the special interests to reconsider
some of the consensus they may
have already approved at the council level, to rethink it and come back
with a different attack on it.”
Further complicating the matter is a political consideration. Rick Johnson
is the Speaker of the
Michigan House of Representatives. He says term limits will hurt the chances
of getting more
complicated land use legislation through the process.
“You know, you’re only around for six years in the House. It’s real hard
to – you know, an issue of land use isn’t going to get done in a year, two
years’ time. It’s a more lengthy discussion.”
On top of that, Johnson says legislators have a hard time keeping the best
interests of the state as
a whole in mind when so many local constituents are pressuring legislators to
think local first.
“When you have a bunch of townships, city, county people saying
‘We don’t want that,’ you know. Or ‘What’s good for Detroit, I don’t care.’
Or, what’s good for Marquette, the legislator
from Detroit don’t care.”
Beyond parochial biases, there are philosophical biases. Senator Liz Brater
also sits on the governor’s land use council. She says the political reality
is that the council’s recommendations
won’t carry that much weight with some legislators unless they fit within
their existing philosophy.
“There’s a certain group of legislators that just embrace the whole Smart Growth
principles and would go forward with it. There are others that are concerned that we’re taking away property rights and the rights of homebuilders and developers to have economic benefit from land that they control. So, there’s a whole gamut and what we need is to identify the common ground.”
But… even if the legislators see some common interests within the Michigan Land Use
Leadership Council’s recommendations… many of the public comments indicate there are a lot of people who are skeptical about land use management. It’s even been called un-American. Senator Brater says if more people knew the issue better… there wouldn’t be so much concern and opposition…
“But, I think we have a lot to overcome in terms of this perception
that we’re trying to do some
kind of centralized, top-down state planning, which I don’t think anybody
really is talking about,
but that is a fear out there that we have to address.”
The Michigan Land Use Leadership Council will make its recommendations for managing land
use in just a few weeks… but whether anything like Smart Growth principles
become part of Michigan law or policy will depend on finding some common ground
between the different interests
and overcoming political biases of the state’s people and their elected representatives.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Audio for the piece was gathered at a People and Land conference.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium receives funding from People and Land.