- The Washington Times - Friday, July 7, 2000

You would think a growing economy would make everyone happy. Obviously, it doesn't, thus you have politicians and vocal special interest groups lobbying for more land-use restrictions in metropolitan regions nationwide.
Sprawl is their battle cry and the local zoning board their bailiwick. On the other side of this legislative tug of war are consumers who provide the demand for more houses.
America is in the midst of a growth spurt. Government estimates place the U.S. population growth for the next few decades in the tens of millions. We have to put them somewhere.
Stuck in the middle are the builders, developers and real estate practitioners who are trying to find a happy medium where planned growth satisfies those who fear the paving of nearby greenways and the consumers who need and want a piece of the American pie without it costing them a firstborn child (or at least without having to spend that firstborn's college fund to buy a home).
Too much unbridled growth causes gridlock and puts pressure on public infrastructure. Too little development and a growing demand for housing mean only the rich can buy a house, while the working poor clog roads, having to commute from affordable areas to the jobs in the expensive housing districts.
The news media are heralding the smart growth message, quoting mounds of sources about how much land is being bulldozed over and how many people don't want new communities and roads placed next to their recently completed subdivisions.
In the face of all this heraldry, however, comes a survey for the National Association of Realtors by Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican polling firm based in Alexandria.
The survey questioned 1,000 randomly selected urban and rural registered voters about such growth issues as school quality, transportation, access to shopping and home construction. (The margin of error was plus or minus 3.1 percent.) The findings are interesting:
Seventy percent of respondents experiencing new-home construction in their area approve of such construction.
More than 80 percent approve of building new roads and widening and enlarging existing roads to accommodate new growth.
Seventy-five percent disapprove of growth management that would make it more difficult or expensive to use one's car.
Almost 80 percent approve of new retail or shopping centers opening due to growth.
Sometimes the respondents seemed to demonstrate uncertainty of what they really wanted in development.
For instance, while nearly two-thirds believe growth should help preserve open space and maintain the historic look of local communities, more than 60 percent approve of growth that results in the expansion of suburban communities.
Meanwhile, voters definitely want laws in place that plan rather than restrict growth: 69 percent disapprove of restrictions that limit property uses, 65 percent disapprove of restrictions that would increase home prices and 64 percent disapprove of requirements to force existing neighborhoods to become more dense and more populated (the primary goals of smart growth legislation).
The politicians have their work cut out for them in developing growth policies that will accommodate growth while protecting the quality of life of U.S. citizens. Let's hope they don't cut out the heart of prosperity in the process.
M. Anthony Carr has written about real estate issues for 11 years. Comments and questions can be directed to macarr@nvar.com.

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