Thursday, April 13, 2006

Some Facts About Growth

Figured I’d weigh in with some facts, to respond to recent comments, mostly about impact fees.

First, while I think impact fees are worth considering, I haven’t said they’re the greatest idea since sliced bread. There are other, probably better ways to find money to build schools and repair streets and fund parks and deal with growth’s costs to local government. Problem is, so far our elected officials aren’t looking at those other ways, either, or using tools they already have (primarily property tax increases) or reallocating existing money.

Second, yes, impact fees would require lengthy political effort. That's one reason they may not be worth fighting for. Another option is some places are using is to adopt adequate public facility ordinances, which need no blessing from Raleigh. Under an APFO, developers can develop in areas where infrastructure’s adequate, or wait to develop until infrastructure catches up, or pay a fee toward creating the infrastructure.

Third, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are not “in the toilet.” Test scores are rising, not sinking, for black, white and Hispanic students. Is that the only way to measure a good education? Of course not. But it’s the only way we have. CMS has some excellent schools, with excellent and hard-working teachers, delivering excellent educations. I’m tired of people acting as if those places don’t exist.

Fourth, there are no proposals before county commissioners or City Council to adopt impact fees. There’s a lot of talk about looking at new revenue options because of a belief that the property tax shouldn’t be the only mechanism with which to raise money. But so far there’s only vague talk.

Fifth, “almost all the new development uptown is because of tax policy and government subsidy.” Say what? Most development uptown is residential and gets no incentives. All over the U.S., urban living became “cool” again in the 1990s and a market arose that didn’t exist 25 years ago, or more likely, a market that existed all along was rediscovered, and with red-lining outlawed it was allowed to flower again.

Yes, the arena and the stadium got healthy boosts from public money. So did the Coliseum on Tyvola Road, by the way. So did the old Coliseum (now Cricket Arena) on Indy Boulevard back in the late 1950s. If you’re tracking subsidies, don’t overlook the outerbelt and its numerous, clogged-with-development interchanges – way more than are needed for transportation purposes. We all paid to build those interchanges, in order to enrich developers and landowners. Remember, too, that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities plans to put sewer service in every square inch of the county, paid for by all off us who pay water-sewer fees. Talk about incentives to develop! Without sewer and water, no development. You may not like government spending that lures development, but it’s been going on for years, all over the place.

Last, “It’s well documented that new urbanism gets legs not because people want to live in urban areas (in fact this year's realtor survey and recent census survey say the exact opposite) but because of financial and tax policy incentives.” Any of you new urbanist developers out there want to set the record straight?

7 comments:

Joe M. said...

Mary, I work in the real estate field, and I am not aware of any tax incentives for building or living in the city. If there are any such tax incentives, I hope your commenter responds with the details -- I'd love to know about them. Of course, homeownership gets a subsidy from the govt. - the mortgage interest deduction on your federal income taxes. But that applies whether you live in a condo in the city or a 50-acre spread way out.

As far as studies by realtors about where people want to live, the National Assn of Realtors did a survey in 2004 -- it's on their web site at realtors.org/smartgrowth -- the preference was for close-in suburbs, as opposed to living in the city or living way out in the far 'burbs or country. The same survey found that people prefer communities that are more like "new urbanism" or "smart growth", that is, with a mix of uses and housing types, within walking distance of stores and restaurants, near transit, and with sidewalks. 55% preferred that; 45% preferred the more conventional suburb with just houses where you have to drive everywhere. So, I think developers will definitely find a good market for "new urbanism" or "traditional neighborhoods." It sort of combines the best of city and suburb.

Rick said...

Joe M,

Did you actually read the survey that you linked? It's main question was skewed, just like the MarketWise question about impact fees. The choices are, close in with nice amenities and way far out with NO ammenities. Of course, people say close-in.

However, it is even more ridiculous than the school bonds survey because it doesn't even support your arguement.

http://realtors.org/SG3.nsf/Pages/NARSGA2004Survey?OpenDocument

Here's the second paragraph...

"A commute time of 45 minutes or less is the top priority in deciding where to live for 79 percent of Americans. Other top priorities include easy access to highways (75 percent) and having sidewalks and places to walk (72 percent). Having a large house on more than one acre of land is important to 57 percent of Americans."

I live 13 miles from uptown. My commute takes me 30 mins door-to-desk because I am near the highway. My "sprawling" neighborhood has walking AND bike paths. There are shops and restaurants right at the entrance 1 mile from my house. The local elementary school is less than two miles from my house. There are condos, townhouses, and apartments right next to the single family homes - though they are different developments. Finally, one of the proposed train stations on the north line commuter rail will only be 1.25 miles from my house.

By the definition in your survey, very many (if not all) of the sprawling new neighborhoods in Charlotte are close-in, with sidewalks, near shops and schools, and they have a mix of housing types.

However, I guarantee that Mary would not classify where I live as smart growth, new urbnism, or even nice.

Mike said...

That's the nice thing about studies; you can always stop reading when you find something to support your argument.

As my Dad was so fond of saying, "Don't confuse me with the facts. My mind's already made up."

Rick said...

Also Mary,

On schools...

From the Observer:

http://www.charlotte.com/mld/charlotte/news/14339883.htm

"The deficits in North Carolina's public schools are no secret. They have persisted far too long. The 1994 Leandro court case highlighted the disparities in failing rural and urban schools, where persistent poverty has nurtured identifiable gaps in opportunity and achievement. Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, with plainspoken advocacy, has forced attention on 44 high schools where 60 percent or fewer of the students learn at grade level. That's a disgraceful record."

10 OF THOSE HIGH SCHOOLS ARE IN CMS.

There are only 17 CMS high-shcools.

That defines the word CRISIS!

Most responsible critics never blame the teachers who are obviously working under stressful and sometimes dangerous conditions (North Meck riot, Jimmy Grubbs Incident, felon students etc.)

Both of my sisters are teachers, and one of my nieces is as well. One of my sisters teaches at a reform school, and she used to teach in the county jail. When I tell her how CMS handles these students, she is shocked!

Criticism of CMS management (not teachers) is needed, and I would say morally required. It is the only thing that forces things to change. The Peter Gorman selection over Francis Haithcock is a prime example. That would not have happened without the constant public outcry.

I am not Mary Newsom said...

>>.” Say what? Most development uptown is residential and gets no incentives. >>

What do you call the light rail, the arena, the NASCAR HOF, the Arts and Sciences Council, Center City Partners?

Those are ALL 100% taxpayer funded subsidies to CREATE an uptown that new residences want to build to be near. That is ABSOLUTELY a financial incentive to build, paid for by taxes.

Without those things there would be NO reason to build uptown.

That's $1 billion plus in indirect tax subsidy.

And, yes, there are also many examples of DIRECT tax subsidy as well. How many low interest loans, TIF districts, tax rebates for the banks' new projects, etc. are driving growth uptown?

I have an idea. Let spend $1 billion in tax money 'revitalizing' Ballantyne with new roads, soccer fields, amphitheaters, parks, bike paths, etc. and see what that does to new residential development.

Ask yourself a simple question: Why would anyone want to live uptown? The answer is not 'because they enjoy the urban lifestyle' that answer is 'they want to be near work, light rail, arena, arts, etc. all paid for with tax dollars.'

Meanwhile there aren't enough cops on the street, and YES CMS is one of the worst school districts in the country.

Stop cheerleading big government and start being an advocate for the average citizen.

I am not Mary Newsom said...

>>As far as studies by realtors about where people want to live, the National Assn of Realtors did a survey in 2004 -- it's on their web site at realtors.org/smartgrowth -- the preference was for close-in suburbs, as opposed to living in the city or living way out in the far 'burbs or country. The same survey found that people prefer communities that are more like "new urbanism" or "smart growth", that is, with a mix of uses and housing types, within walking distance of stores and restaurants, near transit, and with sidewalks. >>

You are absolutely INCORRECT. That survey (at least the 2005 version) listed 'proximity to mass transit' at almost ZERO percent.

People want cul de sacs, large lots, and large houses, and will always be willing to commute a little extra to get it.

This is an UNDENIABLE fact, other wise new urbanist, suburb-bashers like yourselves would need to complain about suburban sprawl all the time.

And that was a great follow up Rick. I also live in an evil new suburb, and I have never had a better quality of life. New stores, new shopping centers, new and close by schools, cul de sacs with kids playing in them, and not the stench of a CATS bus to be found.

Its a cold hard fact that has Newsom and company crying in their pillows every night that people prefer suburbs.

Anonymous said...

Mary, I'm not a fan of what I think are an excessive number of interchanges on the outerbelt, but the development that they encourage is pretty likely a net generator of tax revenues, since the tax revenue generated by developed commerical land is far greater than that generated by vacant land. Odds are that those dramatically increased taxes will subvsidize the roads rather than the other way around.