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SG-W:/ Re: Proposal B

A Green's response to a friend's questions on Proposal B.

 >Open space vs. greedy developers? Is Proposal B a non-brainer? Not
 >I hate sprawl and I love the countryside. I'm a staunch environmentalist.
 >And I admire Mayor John Hieftje and others who are sincere about
 >preserving farmland. But I still have to ask: Is the greenbelt proposal
 >really good for the environment?

Likewise on the statements.

In answer to the question: It will protect local farmland that supplies 
produce for our farmers' market, the People's Food Co-op, and other 
local grocers, thereby replacing the need for shipping produce from 
California or Mexico or other places outside the county. The reduction 
in air pollution alone is probably worth the cost. In the future, 
agricultural land will be needed to grow fuel crops, such as soy beans 
(a major crop for the county currently), and perhaps as well as space 
for wind turbines to produce electricity (assuming that technologies 
continue to advance to the point where low wind speeds are sufficient 
for that purpose.) The solution to local transportation demand is mass 
transit and the restriction of development to support it, both of which 
are compatible with the goals of Proposal B.

You forgot to mention wildlife habitat. See below.

 >Will Proposal B stop sprawl or merely push it farther out? The greenbelt
 >won't change the demand for housing in Washtenaw County. So if Proposal B
 >succeeds and the city buys permanent development rights on 7,000 acres of
 >farmland, where will the 3,500 or 7,000 homes that might be built on that
 >protected open space end up? Most likely in the townships beyond the
 >greenbelt, where infrastructure is scarce and prime agricultural land is
 >already under development pressure.

If Proposal B fails, those 3500 to 7000 houses *will* be built on that 
7000 acres (operating on your set of assumptions.) Where will the 
farmland and natural areas exist in that scenario? Are the owners of 
that type of property likely to have community gardens? Does that 
substitute for farmland? Are the scattered 1-5 acre greenspaces left in 
the clustered developments (best case) the equivalent of 10-100 acre 
natural areas as they now exist in terms of wildlife habitat? As a 
student of ecology, I would suggest "No".

 >Will the greenbelt enhance Ann Arbor's "quality of life"? The remaining
 >farmland around Ann Arbor is an added amenity for a city already rich in
 >parks, culture, family neighborhoods, and academics. The greenbelt could
 >very well increase property values. And it could drive up prices for land
 >adjoining the greenbelt, making those parcels the local equivalent of
 >oceanfront property. If all this occurs, Ann Arbor will become an even
 >more expensive place to live. Is an expensive city a quality city?

Unfortunately, in Michigan the only other models we have as alternatives 
to expensive cities are dying cities, sprawling suburbs, and exploding 
villages. An expensive city is not necessarily a quality city (I think 
ours is), but, currently, a quality city is necessarily an expensive 
one. Don't like the cost of living a sane existence? Talk to the Bush 

Oregononians got it right twice. They made all oceanfront property 
public and they purchased greenspace around their largest and most 
vibrant city.

 >What's the net result for the environment? Pushing new housing
 >developments further away will mean more roads, sewers, and longer
 >commutes -- but not in our backyard. These will add to the environmental
 >burden already caused by the 75,000 people who commute into Ann Arbor
 >daily. Many of these folks work here but can't afford to live here.

Planning also plays a role. Some of the townships have stated an 
interest in remaining rural. Some have expressed an interest in 
cooperating with the city on protecting natural areas and farmland and 
contributing financially to their protection. The key will be for 
governmental bodies and individual landowners to work together to figure 
this out before the developers own the land and we no longer have any 
control. Is there any doubt that developers will never work together to 
protect large areas from permanent development? (See above for thoughts 
on transportation.)

 >What's the connection between city taxes and sprawl? High property taxes
 >are one part of the high city housing costs that contribute to sprawl.
 >People get more house for their money--and pay lower taxes--if they live
 >outside Ann Arbor. Defeating Proposal B is a small step toward lowering
 >property taxes and thereby attacking one of the reasons why people leave
 >the city.

Those lower taxes are a manifestation of less than full-cost accounting. 
Those houses and businesses are impacting our common environment without 
paying the cost of the damage they incur. Transportation (roads, air and 
water pollution, etc.) is probably the primary area of subsidization 
that supports them, but solid waste and sewage disposal, not to mention 
habitat destruction, also figure in. I'm not arguing that city dwellers 
are necessarily covering those costs either, but that low taxes are a 
function of not paying for (relatively) environmentally friendly 
services like sewers, composting, recycling, and mass transit.

There are many ways to lower property taxes. Is eliminating a half mill 
that will function to guide us to sound land use the best portion to 
eliminate? Fight the expansion of roads and sewers that result in the 
increases in taxes in the townships if you want to do that. And that's 
just for basic services like police and fire protection and 
schools--we're not talking comprehensive curbside recycling and green 
fleets here. Of course, you'd have to live in the township to do that.

 >If not Proposal B, then what? As a city that imports 75,000 workers a 
 >with all the negative environmental consequences of that commuting, Ann
 >Arbor's foremost environmental responsibility should be to work with the
 >home building industry and township officials to build more -- not 
less --
 >dense, affordable housing inside AND closely around the city so that more
 >people who work here can live here. This can done in a way that still
 >preserves some open space nearby. More close-in housing would help our
 >public schools, improve population diversity and quality of life, and 
 >keep sprawl from spreading farther out.

Why not both? Proposal B will not prevent development of that vast 
majority of land surrounding the city (much of which has already been 
done--poorly.) Shouldn't any new development minimize it's impact on the 
environment, regardless of whether it's adjacent to farmland or open 
space? That's still a necessary change (currently coming about too 
slowly), regardless of whether Proposal B passes.

 >My fear is that Proposal B is another step toward making Ann Arbor an
 >increasingly elite city where open spaces are enjoyed by a diminishing
 >number of people who can afford to live here. It's not a way to stop
 >sprawl-- it's a way to send it somewhere else.

Proposal B will be a latecomer to the factors making Ann Arbor an elite 
city. Affordable housing is a separate issue that, similar to efforts to 
protect vanishing local farmland and natural areas, requires political 
will. John Hieftje has demonstrated that will in the form of Proposal B. 
I have little doubt that he and others will next take on affordable 
housing with the same care and effort. You and I can help in that 
effort. I don't expect the Homebuilders' Association will get it done.

As for stopping sprawl, there is no one way. Proposal B will be a step 
in a process that will help us corral sprawl, preventing the worst-case 
scenario. (We're talking Precautionary Principle here, in case you 
didn't realize that.) With other subsequent efforts at rezoning, 
brownfield and other infill (re)development, and maybe even a 
realization that attracting more people to our county will eventually 
reach a point of diminishing returns (if it hasn't already--are you 
listening Washtenaw Development Council?) will allow us to tame it.


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