In the strategic plan I have written Orchard Park is envisioned as a community of choice for living, learning, working and playing. The achieving of this state requires a Town Board that sets three strategic priorities: that of [1] providing the kind of leadership that is eager to serve the needs, interests and desires of our community (i.e., servant-leadership), [2] protecting the value of residents’ tax dollars by enhancing services while controlling costs, and being vigilant to guard our open spaces and the integrity of our neighborhoods, and [3] developing and implementing growth management strategies that strengthen residential and business development consistent with the character and services of our community. The concept of smart growth which I will address this week embraces all three of these priorities.

But first I offer an important DISCLAIMER: As a newborn local politician I have limited knowledge, at this point, of the composition and workings of most of the committees and boards we have in place in Orchard Park. It would be rash of me, consequently, to try and run forward with operationally-specific conclusions and/or recommendations. Rather, I will sensibly crawl among some general principles that I believe will contribute to the kind of smart growth which will advance Orchard Park as a community of choice. So please keep in mind that what follows is not intended to reflect or evaluate either the presence or absence of such things in current policy or operations.

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CONCEPT: What is smart growth? At the risk of oversimplification, ‘growth’ is equivalent to development, while ‘smart’ is an adjective characterizing that which is done in an intentional and effective manner. ‘Smart growth’ is, therefore, development which is intentional and effective with respect to community needs, interests, conditions, values and character. Quite simply, smart growth is development which is beneficial to the life and well-being of its community. Furthermore, because communities, like people, change, smart growth necessarily evolves with the community. When growth ceases to evolve in concert with the community, it ceases to be smart.

Life and well-being are goods welcomed by all. The universal reaction of people at the sight of a new born child or upon receiving a positive doctor’s report confirms this no-brainer. Thus I welcome smart growth as a no-brainer for our community in that it will promote the life and well-being of our residents. Note that I did not say that I welcome growth, but smart growth. Growth, unhappily, can also be harmful to the life and well-being of persons and communities. It is now widely recognized that ill-considered development can produce adverse conditions within a community – traffic congestion; overcrowded schools; environmental pollutions (air, water, noise); loss of environmental quality, features and open space; effacement or loss of valued historic places; inadequate and costly public infrastructure, facilities and services; lack of affordable housing; and loss of community character and charm.

In order to prevent these kinds of harm, communities have established regulatory controls – institutions, codes, policies and devices – which circumscribe areas of development, condition project approval, and add requirements for developer contributions. But regulatory restrictiveness, while sensible, is not always the antidote. It can, and often does, slow or even prevent healthy growth through inertia, and in so doing puts a community at a competitive disadvantage, confines its tax ratables, and limits residents’ access to desirable housing, amenities and services.

PRINCIPLES: [1] Alongside of and conditioning regulatory controls should be development processes that both facilitate the achieving of identified public priorities and goals for community betterment and accommodate development proposals for meeting them. [2] Priorities and goals should be collaboratively determined and planned by the community, not by a select number of individuals, whether elected or appointed. The method for achieving such collaboration should include several mechanisms (e.g. survey, task force) and should represent all sectors and stakeholders of the community. [3] Development should be strategic, that is, it should result in an environment designed around the true needs and values of residents, be conducive to the formation of community, and preserve the overall character, that is, the landscape of our community, its neighborhoods and diverse environments.

[4] Most importantly, all development must add real and sustainable value to the community (economic, environmental, social), not just in the short-term (e.g. increased tax revenue) but especially in the long-term. For example, infrastructural costs for service, maintenance and replacement should not exceed tax revenues generated over a given period of time. In other words, growth should pay for itself. Too often growth is approved as a political expediency for mitigating imminent financial liabilities without consideration of its long-term obligations and consequences. In effect, near-term revenue (tax) advantages associated with development are traded for the long-term financial obligations of maintaining its infrastructure, therein creating modest short-term benefits but substantial long-term costs for the community. Smart growth, however, requires that the financial return generated by the new growth should equal if not exceed any full life-cycle costs associated with service, maintenance and replacement. This requires a benefit/cost analysis prior to approval of development.

In the end, the community has a right to ask the return-on-investment question. What value will we receive for approving this development, or forfeit if we do not?

See also my strategic plan, Goal 2 – Objectives 2 & 3.

Next week – Budgeting