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The downsides of slowing growth

Marty Lich

Our local government is discovering the absolute power of absolute government control. Last year it was the exploration and implementation of eminent domain. This year they are on a new politically correct course: limiting growth. A phenomenon that is cropping up all over the towns and cities in America.

I must admit that my first reaction regarding limiting growth in Eagle County was to say “Terrific!” No new added traffic, no additional burdens on our already over-burdened schools, no accelerated costs of water, insurance, and even less trash to clean up on highway cleanup day, all results of higher density in our valley. More open pastures and farmland to view from the road, more wildlife sustained due to less encroachment by development, what could be better?

Then a reality check came into play and I thought it through a bit more.

Anyone who knows me knows that I research the origin behind the idea, look at the results if they are implemented, and the long-term repercussions following any implementation. And so I did with this smart growth issue.

Our county commissioners want, for now, a mere nine-month ban on new subdivisions to resolve this impact issue. Is nine months enough time to address it, review it, and make changes for the betterment of the community? Remember that all prior approved projects here are still approved; they will still be built here. So this nine-month growth moratorium won’t change the local developers’ visions of ‘yesteryear’, these visions are still slated to become a reality check in Eagle County.

Let’s examine the basic fundamentals of private home ownership in the United States and the origination of the now common key community words; “open space”, “smart growth,” “sustainable growth,” “livable communities,” “new urbanism,” and “stopping sprawl.” The United States federal laws, our environmental laws, originated on the first Earth Day in America, April 22, 1970. Since then, major environmental statutes have come into play regarding growth, our environment, our quality of life. Enter the Pollution Prosecution Act, the Clean Air Act; the Ocean Dumping Act, the Clean Water Act; the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, to name a few. More governmental controls on what were private rights of ownership and use thereof. Prebles meadow mouse found in your field? You cannot build in Colorado. A marsh runs through your backyard? You cannot disturb it. Too bad you own it.

Once the government is allowed more control over the private sector, they do not relinquish these controls quickly or quietly. To further reduce or deny new developments will impact the owners of their privately owned property, thereby further stripping their rights to utilize their property as it is designated, properties zoned for multi-family home sites. Companies and local families that planned for new developments in the future may not be able to count on their common law vested rights; these rights may be here today and gone tomorrow. I will ask you all, does the government; be they state, local or federal officials, have the right to deny individuals and corporations of their rights to use and develop their own private land in the manner of which it was already designated?

To answer this in part, look to the long-term consequences if this fundamental right is overridden by governmental control over our private property ownership rights. The trickle-down effect will be fewer homes available for purchase by local residents. The description of “local resident” may well include your sons and daughters.

Remember when single family homes are scarcer, the price will go up accordingly. It is the simple rule of supply and demand. The costs of wading through local government red tape will increase and again, the buyer’s costs will be adjusted upward to compensate for these expenditures. Much as theft in our stores is passed onto the customer in higher price tags, the developer’s costs will be passed to the consumer in higher housing prices. The consumer in this case will be the Eagle County residents clutching onto the American Dream of owning their own home.

Much of our valley is now dependent on the construction workforce; we are no longer reliant on the ski industry and tourists as our only source of cash flow. If there is little new construction going on, there will be fewer jobs available for our valley’s important lifeblood, the construction trade. Less job availability will mean less expendable incomes for our families. Lower income will result in limited money for groceries and reduced money for recreational activities, including, but not limited to, use of our newly built and under construction recreation centers, less consumer use of our skate parks and new ballparks. Amenities we have built on borrowed money and something our taxes will be paying off for several years. Customers will be spending less amounts of money in the stores and that means a reduced need for clerks and front desk employees. Less need for these employees will result in a smaller workforce which translates into increased lay-offs. Remember hearing these words, “laid off due to lack of work?” I do. There will be less income brought home which loosely translates into less taxes being paid back to the community. Less tax funds collected means less funding for our schools, less tax dollars for our roads, less tax money to pay towards those bonds that we now are indebted to. These are services we are now accustomed to having provided to us in Eagle County. The bottom line is, less money taken in means less money paid out. Preventing urban sprawl is not quite as easy as the simple preservation of undeveloped fields and open lots.

“Smart growth” is a new concept in our community and on the surface it sounds wonderful. On the surface. The undercurrent is underrepresented.

Tune in and stay informed because it is the trickle-down effect we should all be watching out for. And perhaps in the end you all may decide the tradeoff is worth the payoff.

Then again, you might not. VT


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