Seriously folks, one would have thought that most people (politicians, professionals, and citizens alike) would have figured out this basic tenet of Sprawl 101 by now, but apparently not. When you build a new road, widen a road, extend utilities (water and/or sewer), or install an oversized utility line at or near the edge of your community, you are literally sowing the seedlings for more sprawl. There ain’t any two ways about it. You might as well say, “come and get it!”
Many zoning ordinances include rezoning criteria that includes consideration of the capability of existing road and utility infrastructure as well as previous public improvements. Who in their right mind is not going to note the presence a widened roadway or an extended/enlarged utility line? The applicant would be silly not to point it out, leaving the planning commission and/or governing body scrambling to find other reasons to say no (provided they are opposed to the rezoning).
Furthermore, in the case of expanded or enlarged utility infrastructure, what else is going to pay for the cost of the upgrades other than hook-up fees?…farms?…ranches?…fallow land?…recreation areas? I seriously doubt it on all counts. The only logical and economically viable option is new residential and/or commercial development. Otherwise, it is rather pointless to be building “infrastructure to nowhere” in the first place.
As the Sierra Club notes, we subsidize (sow the seeds of) sprawl in many ways:
- “building new and wider roads
- building schools on the fringe
- extending sewer and water lines to sprawling development
- extending emergency services to the fringe
- direct pay-outs to developers.”
And this quote from Sprawl 101: How Sprawl Hurts Us All sums it up:
“Our tax money subsidizes new sprawling developments, rather than improving our existing communities. Sprawl costs our cities and counties millions of dollars for new water and sewer lines, new schools, and increased police and fire protection. Those costs are not fully offset by the taxes paid by the new users. Instead, sprawl forces higher taxes on existing residents and hastens the decline of our urban tax base.”
Planners need to regularly remind politicians, those in the engineering and public works disciplines, architects, realtors, and the community at large that the results of their individual and collective actions to not curb sprawl will be counter-productive to good land use planning, sustainability, and smart growth (there’s an oldie but goodie term). This, in turn, will inevitably lead one’s community down the same worn out path toward Sprawlville.