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E-M:/ Doug Jester replies on sprawl question

Enviro-Mich message from "Alex J. Sagady & Associates" <ajs@sagady.com>

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rom: "Douglas B Jester" <jester@tcimet.net>
To: <enviro-mich@great-lakes.net>
Subject: RE: / Doug Jester replies on sprawl question 
Date: Sat, 22 May 1999 21:47:25 -0400
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In context of the current issue it is easy to view my analysis of annexation
as theoretical, but in fact it is the heart of the problem in Michigan. We
don't have a problem of too many local governments so much as a problem of
too many local governments empowered to provide the infrastructure for
development. A little applied game theory will tell you that it isn't
feasible to prevent sprawling development when there are so many players,
except by creating some super-authority. But, if we are going to have such a
super-authority for purposes of planning and zoning, why not just call it a
city. Planning and zoning are not independent of infrastructure development
and maintenance, public services, and the other functions of a city and I
don't see that we will get more rational development decisions if we
separate the planning and zoning functions from the rest of municipal
government than if we keep them bundled.

I remain standing on my argument that annexation is not the problem in these
situations, but rather the problem is the peculiar Michigan notion of
Charter Townships with the full power to facilitate development.

I'd also like to open up another front in this discussion. It should be
pretty clear to us all by now that the essential nature of sprawl is that we
have demand for a given amount of housing, offices, etc. and that it takes a
lot more land to build these with low density than with high density.
Further, low density development drives people to drive cars everywhere
rather than to use human-powered transportation. Places that are not
walkable have weak engagement among the inhabitants and a consequent weak
sense of community. Policy prescriptions like growth boundaries,
limited-capacity road systems, denial of infrastructure development, etc.,
are all devices to encourage more dense development. Meanwhile,
"environmentalists" in many places like Meridian Township continue to argue
for lower density in the developments that are authorized within the
Township. This is schizophrenic. We need higher density development on less
land. However, higher density development requires a higher level of
municipal services to be successful; for example, individual solid waste
contracts are highly inefficient and disruptive in high density settlements
and municipal solid waste collection services are almost essential. This is
the way that cities operate, but usually townships try to minimize such

In East Lansing for the last few years, we've had a reasonable consensus in
favor of increasing the density of the City (with occasional lapses). It is
notable that much of the zoning in the portion of DeWitt Township that we
acquired via a 425 agreement last year is for medium-density detached
housing rather than the low density that is typical in such areas. The
recent developments on the fringes but within the City have been higher
density planned developments with multiple dwelling units rather than
detached houses. I don't think we've really figured out how to distinguish
good from bad higher-density development, but we've learned to overcome most
of the arguments that a particular development is "too dense". Now, if we
can just learn how to say whether a development is well-designed for its
density, we'll be on the right track.

In effect, I'm saying that if people in Meridian Township want to reduce
sprawl, they need to recognize that they are sprawl and that they need to
push for higher density, greater municipal services, and accept higher taxes
if they want to be part of the solution...or just annex to East Lansing.

And, Anne, I don't begrudge you and others like you a rural lifestyle...I
just recognize that the 40,000 or so residents of Meridian Township can't
all have a rural lifestyle.

Continued best wishes.

Douglas Jester

-----Original Message-----
From: owner-enviro-mich@great-lakes.net
[mailto:owner-enviro-mich@great-lakes.net]On Behalf Of
Sent: Thursday, May 20, 1999 3:00 AM
To: enviro-mich@great-lakes.net
Subject: 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.
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
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
assumption that development of our communities should be orderly and reflect
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
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
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
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
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

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
tax break).  Other times, it is the issue of annexation or detachment,
what should be cooperating entities against one another.

I very much agree that we should assure work hard to inhabit or reinhabit
cities, to promote compact growth that maximizes the benefits of
infrastructure instead of simply maximizing infrastructure.  But we don't
a choice now of going back to rewrite the history that brought us led to
we are today in Michigan, with development everywhere, and 1800
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
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
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.
might be an opportunity to actually put into play what many of us have
for a long time, that Smart Growth or whatever phrase you use makes MUCH
sense that the seemingly endless development we face today.

Anne Woiwode

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