[Date Prev][Date Next][Date Index]

E-M:/ More on sprawl

Enviro-Mich message from "Douglas B Jester" <jester@tcimet.net>

Anne, and others who are looking in:

Thanks for continuing this dialogue. I think it will ultimately be

First, let me continue to disclaim (except for an obvious paragraph below)
that I am discussing the Governors' Club proposal. I want to get general
principles clear before applying them to the specific instance, however
obvious it is that this debate was joined because of that proposal.

It is possible for local governments to have enormous influence over
development while still respecting constitutionally protected property
rights. Local governments provide important infrastructure and have
regulatory authority that can significantly influence the profitability of
development, especially of one place as compared to another. These are
mechanisms that can be used to direct development, but not to stop it; it
won't work to oppose all development using these tools. Consistent with my
earlier notion that development should occur in cities or by annexation
along their boundaries, development should be hard in townships and easy in
cities. Similarly, annexation should be relatively easy.

Further, when development occurs, regulation should encourage livable higher
density rather than artificially limiting the density. Clustered housing
surrounded by open space is certainly a more livable pattern than a series
of one-acre, one-house lots. However, at metropolitan scale, one house per
acre still generates sprawl. Parks and other open spaces should be located
in a developed matrix rather than having scattered housing clustered in an
open space matrix. The difference is that clustered housing makes for more
livable neighborhoods than one-house, one-acre lots but does little to
reduce demands for driving and only partially reduces the infrastructure
costs of uniform low-density development. True urban development minimizes
total developed area and hence minimizes transportation and infrastructure

Now, a paragraph about the Governors' Club proposal. For the record, we (the
East Lansing City Manager and I, as Mayor) attempted to open discussions
with Meridian Township about two years ago concerning the possibility of a
425 agreement that would address a range of jurisdictional and shared
services issues, but they weren't interested. In the limited discussions
that have occurred since the Governors' Club annexation proposal, East
Lansing has suggested approaches that would share taxes and service
obligations to further integrate the region and the communities. Meridian
Township appears to me to want to buy or scare us off but not enter into a
more cooperative relationship. Meanwhile, East Lansing City Council heard
our first presentation from the Governors' Club developers at our work
session this week. I'm still reserving judgment about the overall issues but
I want to share an observation about the development proposal. The plan
presented to us by the developers was reported to be the plan that was
approved by Meridian Township. The minimum house price was expected to be
above $200,000 so we asked about the possibility of some lower cost housing
such as condominium townhouses; the answer was that Meridian Township didn't
want them. I asked where people in this development would go for
neighborhood commercial services; the answer was that Meridian Township
discouraged incorporating them into the development. Generally, as we asked
about the kinds of features that would fit a "new urbanism" agenda, the
general answer was that those were not permitted or welcomed in Meridian
Township. I don't know the details of the original proposal, Meridian's base
zoning requirements, or the decisions made in the township planning process
for the Governors' Club but if indeed the kinds of features we asked about
are prohibited or discouraged in Meridian Township then my earlier point
about the township inducing sprawl with its low-density zoning is even more
important in this discussion.

Yours for better regional development,

Douglas Jester

-----Original Message-----
From: owner-enviro-mich@great-lakes.net
[mailto:owner-enviro-mich@great-lakes.net]On Behalf Of
Sent: Monday, May 24, 1999 2:06 AM
To: ajs@sagady.com; enviro-mich@great-lakes.net
Subject: E-M:/ Doug Jester replies on sprawl question

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


This kind of discussion doesn't easily permit a full overview of the issues,
and the specific instance here that prompts my concerns does not neatly fit
the categories you have highlighted.  So let me basically agree with some of
the concepts you lay out, then discuss the issue I raised at the beginning
this chain again.

1) Whether it is called a city, a county, a township or a fiefdom, I think
agree that planning and zoning need to be done at a scale that reflects the
realities of the community.  My difficulty is that even if we agreed that
rational thing to do was to ban all development outside of incorporated
cities, we would have to alter the US Constitution to accomplish it.  While
visualizing a better way to do things is critical to moving toward sound
use, that vision has to be feasible, and I am afraid I don't see what you
suggest in the way of all development occurring solely under the confines of
"city" as being achievable in this country.  My point about rural
is that they have existing rights and responsibilities that will not be
up voluntarily, and which the legal structure of the country defends, so it
makes little sense to hope for a situation in which only cities will be the
site of development. Other forms of regionalizing planning and zoning,
through mandates and incentives or mergers among units, are potentially
achievable and should be given more attention (although in a state where a
mere mention in DEQ's budget bill of not promoting sprawl propels the
development lobbyists to an outrageous frenzy of figurative leg-breaking, it
is hard to have hope such reasonable changes are in our immediate future).
These seem a lot more practical concepts to hang your hat on than ceding all
development authority to cities.

2) I agree entirely with your view on the density issue, and this is a
of great debate within communities such as Meridian Twp.  I inherited the
conclusion that 1 or 2 acre lots are actually the bane of rational
from my parents, who were very involved in a township outside of
PA when I was a child.  They saw how awful the countryside became with 2
lots, and through their positions on our Twp. Board and Planning Commission
helped secure dedicated open space and clustered houses 30 years ago -- I
distressed to see that these ideas were still considered new ideas in
when I became active in my township.  The problem is that there is a lack of
trust (and anyone watching Meridian Twp. today would certainly see why) that
open space will stay open, and that clusters won't just lead to many more
clusters on the same land, ultimately creating the high density and no open
space that was feared.  There is no forever in most planning and zoning
decisions, so in communities where conflict is a given, less than the best
design may be chosen because it assures that the worst design will not creep
in the back door.  Until Purchase of Development Rights or Transfer of
Development Rights become a reality, it will be hard to convince these folks
that their approach isn't the best resolution.

3) The annexation issue you discuss does not fit with the reality of the
annexation proposal that prompted this discussion, the Governor's Club in
Meridian Twp.  First off, this was not something planned for or anticipated
East Lansing as part of a rational development plan for the area.  There is
currently no East Lansing infrastructure near this site because it is
separated by a large amount of MSU farm land from the city services of East
Lansing.  In fact, the developer proposed the annexation to include a huge
amount of MSU land both to give a physical connection to East Lansing that
does not otherwise exist, and at the same time gerrymandered that connection
to exclude Meridian Twp. residents who are opposed to the annexation.

The proposed annexation is a devious plan by a developer to use a large
of potential tax money to pit two neighbors against each other, and to end
with exactly what the developer wants in the end, regardless of which
community they call home.  The sole impetus for the annexation is for the
developer to escape the scrutiny of the project by the voters of Meridian
Twp., who might well have voted to support the plan they proposed.  This is
the antithesis of good and orderly regional development, and has none of the
hallmarks of the good reasons for annexation that you cited.  It is most
disturbing to read the uncritical analyses by East Lansing elected officials
of this gross manipulation, which don't reflect the thoughtful analysis you
have given of the concept of annexation previously. More than anything, this
case should demonstrate that even the best ideas can be badly abused by
who are single purpose, placing a value solely on profits and being willing
wreak havoc to get their way.

Believe me, I am not inclined to pretend that the only ones at fault are the
developer and East Lansing -- there is plenty enough fault to tar everyone
some way. My hope is that since East Lansing is in the driver's seat that
council will set aside the gleeful attitude that this is all good for East
Lansing (the plan clearly is not) and that the devastating impact it is
on your relationship with your closest neighbor be weighed as well.  A
leadership for creating a rational community out of this debacle could go a
huge long way right now, if the East Lansing council would stop drooling
the prospective tax money for a few minutes and look at the big picture.
isn't a prototype, it is a messy, living morass and the reality of the
situation must be weighed against the ideal.

Thanks for continuing the discussion.  I imagine others will have many
insights and suggestions as well.

Anne Woiwode

ENVIRO-MICH:  Internet List and Forum for Michigan Environmental
and Conservation Issues and Michigan-based Citizen Action.   Archives at

Postings to:  enviro-mich@great-lakes.net      For info, send email to
majordomo@great-lakes.net  with a one-line message body of  "info

ENVIRO-MICH:  Internet List and Forum for Michigan Environmental
and Conservation Issues and Michigan-based Citizen Action.   Archives at

Postings to:  enviro-mich@great-lakes.net      For info, send email to
majordomo@great-lakes.net  with a one-line message body of  "info enviro-mich"