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E-M:/ Doug Jester replies on sprawl question

Enviro-Mich message from anne.woiwode@sfsierra.sierraclub.org

Doug et al:  

I wish that the theoretical situation you suggest were in fact reality.  Your
point goes exactly to the concern I raise, but from a different perspective,
and I fear lays out a world that is out of touch with Michigan's reality.

Michigan has codified into our state law a collection of sometimes conflicting
zoning and planning statutes that apply separately to cities, townships,
counties, etc.  Instead of the scenario you suggest, when there is no zoning
ALL development is allowed.  We don't start in this nation with a fundamental
assumption that development of our communities should be orderly and reflect a
sensible plan, we start instead with the premise that every thing is allowed
unless specifically regulated or prohibited.

As those with longer memories than I have will remind us, Michigan attempted
to put into place a statewide approach to orderly development in the 1970's,
only to have it fail in the face of many of the same impulses that still
govern many of our land use issues today.  If a developer does not get what he
or she wants, too often they cry foul and race to the courts.  The K&K
decision in the Supreme Court last year made it clear that communities do have
a right to take reasonable steps to regulate development, but the sheer cost
of getting past the lower courts is often enough to take away a community's
determination to do what is right.

At a theoretical level, if you assume that there should be no development
outside cities and towns, then annexation might be the best tool for assuring
orderly development. (I might note that this urban centric notion doesn't do
justice to those of us who grew up in farm or other rural country, where,
while spread out, civilization does exist! My family lives in a 100 year old
house on a rural dirt road, much older than what is considered very settled in
many communities in Michigan. In contrast to your vision, I would point out
that towns were created by those who already occupied the countryside as
farmers, trappers, etc., so that they could trade.  The activities of the
country side are critical to the very existence of the city, not vice versa.)

As those who have studied Michigan's sprawling ways have explained, the
borders at the edge of cities become the free fire zone for development.  In
many areas, you can tell you've crossed the townline by the amount of
development clustered on just the other side.  Border wars erupt with the
bounty being the supposed tax base and jobs that can be garnered by the
winning community.  Sometimes it is a question of whether the facility will
build on this side of the line or that (often answered by who cuts the biggest
tax break).  Other times, it is the issue of annexation or detachment, pitting
what should be cooperating entities against one another.

I very much agree that we should assure work hard to inhabit or reinhabit the
cities, to promote compact growth that maximizes the benefits of
infrastructure instead of simply maximizing infrastructure.  But we don't have
a choice now of going back to rewrite the history that brought us led to where
we are today in Michigan, with development everywhere, and 1800 jurisdictions
fighting over who gets what.  The reality is that even if half of the
jurisdictions in this state had terrific approaches to land use, and were able
to do sound planning and zoning with no assaults from developers, we would
still be up to our necks in a quagmire, because the jurisdictional boundaries
don't represent the real life communities we inhabit today.

I appreciate that you can not, and should not, prejudge the proposed
annexation from Meridian Twp to East Lansing, and appreciate the benefit of
thinking outside of the box today's situation poses.  It is my sincere hope
that East Lansing will rise to the challenge of putting this situation right
and perhaps creating a model for regional, or at least bilateral cooperation
that would help us raise the debate a few notches from where it is now.  This
might be an opportunity to actually put into play what many of us have mouthed
for a long time, that Smart Growth or whatever phrase you use makes MUCH more
sense that the seemingly endless development we face today.

Anne Woiwode

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