Sunday, June 05, 2005

Keith Woods and Charlie Carson agree: "smart growth" is dumb

Today I found myself agreeing with Brad Bollinger, Press Democrat Business Editor; Keith Woods, CEO of the North Coast Builders Exchange, and Charlie Carson, Executive Director of the local Home Builders Association. Or maybe they’re catching on, and beginning to agree with me.

It began with a snippet at the end of Bollinger’s column: “ ' There are two kinds of development Sonoma County hates,' a local developer recently was quoted as saying. ' Sprawl and density.' ”

True enough. Sonoma County residents don’t want either urban sprawl, or high-rise, high-density growth within its nine cities.

There are several related stories in today’s PD (6/5/05). The most confusing--and unfortunately, the one readers will probably see and remember--is Ann DuBay’s op/ed piece: “Battle over expanding Sonoma County greenbelts is about to begin”.

Dubay concludes, “City residents should feel the pain themselves before requiring their country neighbors to sacrifice their lifestyle.” She's talking about the pain of urban sprawl.

DuBay argues, “But more than anything, organizations concerned about sprawl need to promote dense urban developments. By allowing more people to live within the cities, there is less pressure to build in the country.”

And also, ”Environmental activists aren't the only ones who need to speak up: Anyone worried about the county's future should be voicing their support for dense urban housing projects.”

I disagree. And so do Keith Woods and Charlie Carson.

The better story is in the annual Sonoma County Outlook section today, p20: “Cities turn to 'smart growth'/Mixed-use developments gain in popularity across Sonoma County”, by Steve Hart.

The story promotes “smart growth”. But it adds:

” ' It's the wave of the future,' said developer Orrin Thiessen, whose $160 million Town Green Village in Windsor is Sonoma County's leading example of the concept.

But not everyone is raving about smart growth. Critics say such high-density development can bring traffic problems and overcrowding.

' It can become dumb growth if it's in your neighborhood,' said Keith Woods, chief executive officer at North Coast Builders Exchange, a construction industry group.

It's unclear whether Sonoma County home buyers will embrace the trend. Builders say most consumers want single-family homes in conventional suburban neighborhoods.”

And also,

Neighbors are fighting Thiessen's plan for multi-story housing and commercial development next to single-family homes in Windsor's Esposti Park neighborhood. Critics say multi-story housing isn't compatible with the neighborhood.

Woods said some projects are bound to cause conflict. ' We are forcing ourselves to stuff high densities into communities that were never designed for those sorts of numbers ' he said.

Charlie Carson, executive director of the Home Builders Association of Northern California, said there must be balance between smart growth and other types of development. ' People say it should be smart growth or nothing,' he said. ' But it can be really difficult to get their version approved and come on line.'

He said it might be unrealistic to plan high-density projects around a proposed North Bay commuter rail system that probably won't be built for many years.

Carson said there's still a need for traditional development, including neighborhoods of detached single-family homes. ' That lifestyle really prevails up here,' he said. “

The developer Bollinger quoted said Sonoma County hates two kinds of development: “Sprawl and density”. Both Woods and Carson seem to agree local residents don’t want “smart growth”; and Carson commented “People say it should be smart growth or nothing.”

There’s been too much unmitigated, urban-style growth already. So I agree with Keith and Charlie, and the people of Sonoma County: no growth is better than "smart growth".


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