Opposition to "smart growth"

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McMansion under construction in Virginia

Countryside sprawl in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

Commercial strip, Prince Edward Island, Canada

Traffic outside Washington, D.C.

Local opposition often thwarts smart growth

Atlanta (AP) -- Ask people what they think about using "smart growth" to curb sprawl, reduce traffic and protect oen land, and the idea ranks up there with world peace and ending hunger.

But when developers start building stores and workplaces near suburban homes, they usually get one response from locals -- "Not in my neighborhood!"

With the country's top proponents of smart growth -- dense development that combines homes within walking distance of schools, stores, apartments and workplaces -- meeting in Atlanta this week, the hot topic has been overcoming local opposition to change.

"What we say is there are two things Americans hate about growth: sprawl and density. The joke is, what the hell else is there?" said Ron Terwilliger, a developer and chairman of the Urban Land Institute, which sponsored the conference.

The dilemma is especially pronounced in metro Atlanta, where the 35-mile average commute is the longest in the nation and where smog is so bad the federal government has cut off highway funds and parents are warned to keep small children inside on some summer days.

However, even here, several planned subdivisions that were to include stores and bike trails have fallen flat because of resistance from neighbors.

There's no question people are unhappy with the clogged roads and blight that often accompany suburban growth. The problem is many people favor mass transit and dense development for others but choose one-acre lots tucked away in subdivisions for themselves.

"People move out to the suburbs because they like the greenery," said planner Robert Preston. "Then things come in and destroy that. They want to put space -- literal and psychological -- between themselves and the growth." But while developers told war stories of getting smart-growth support from residents -- not to mention investors and local zoning boards -- there was a great deal of optimism as planners and government officials talked about changing minds.

Real estate consultants talked about recent surveys of likely home buyers that found that up to a third would trade in a bigger lot for a shorter commute. And businesses in congested areas see the consequences of sprawl and are starting to request smart-growth planning from local governments.

Lewiston Sun-Journal, December 8, 2000, p. A 11