Citizens should have a voice in planning growth 

Hal Rothman, writing in a recent Independent Your Turn ("Growth fight carries overtones of class warfare,"July 6), completely ignores the problems poised by urban sprawl. He states he's "no more a fan of urban sprawl than the next guy" but believes growth management policies are the Big Evil. He admits that green space, growth rings and zoning "achieve visible goals," but don't solve all the problems of getting along with one another.

He blames the "growth fight" for all manner of urban ills, primarily lack of affordable housing and elitism. Excuse me? Lack of affordable housing and elitism are the consequences of how we share the wealth, not how we grow.

As for Rothman's idea of "getting along," that's not part of the sprawl issue either unless one counts the author's admitted desire for bounty of urban living and a vibrant economy simultaneously surrounded by countryside instead of neighbors. This is not possible.

Rothman's missing the point. Cities are becoming congested, polluted, expensive and ugly. Countryside is disappearing.

Responsible growth is not closing the door. Although new development supposedly pays for itself, over a period of years residential or commercial development will require taxpayer dollars to prevent decay, maintain roads, schools and public services.

Colorado Springs is locked into a cycle of neglecting older neighborhoods in order to keep up with costs of new infrastructure and developments. Today's new neighborhood will be hurting 10 years from now if not sooner. How many new SCIP levies do we want?

One solution is working its way to the November ballot -- the Responsible Growth Initiative, sponsored by Colorado PIRG, Colorado Environmental Coalition, American Planning Association, Western Colorado Congress and the Sierra Club Rocky Mtn. Chapter.

If the initiative is enacted this November, local residents will be able to make informed decisions about where future growth occurs. Before any vote, information will be provided to local citizens about the new growth area's densities and proposed land use. Taxpayers of a particular town, city or county will know what the costs of growth are and will have a say in where growth occurs.

Colorado Springs' planning department will be required to disclose estimated short- and long-term costs to the taxpayers, including fiscal costs, schools, open space, police service and traffic. Votes on proposed growth areas would take place during any November election. Once approved, development inside the growth areas, including issuing building permits, zoning, planning and open space remains just as it is today.

In Colorado Springs, 40 percent of our city land is available for infill development. Southern parts of our city's infrastructure are currently underutilized while new infrastructure pops up further and further north of downtown, costing taxpayers in more ways than one.

Past reactions to attempts to plan growth here led to campaigns of misinformation and fear mongering.

This initiative doesn't stop growth. It allows local citizens to have a say about what growth in their community will look like. Communities that want more growth can plan for a way to attract and service it without breaking the bank

Nothing in the initiative is intended to affect the constitutional protections accorded to private property. As is the case today, private property is subject to zoning requirements.The growth initiative allows flexibility for individual rural landowners outside the urban growth areas to "develop" their land without a vote.

Ultimately, the initiative will help communities to save money by giving them more control over development and the cost of providing services to accommodate sprawl. Election costs will be minimal since they will take place at regular November elections. (CoPIRG estimates $13 million for local governments statewide over 20 years to implement the initiative vs. $75 million in tax dollars supporting unchecked sprawling development over 20 years.)

The Responsible Growth Initiative is about citizens "having the right to know what it costs to grow." For additional information check out the web: www.rmc.sierraclub.org/pcg/Sprawl/.

-- Max Eisele is a local activist working with Colorado Springs Citizens for Responsible Growth


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