Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Dealing With Development . . .

Per today's OD, the New Hartford Planning Board got an earful at last night's meeting where the recommendations contained in a "Generic Environmental Impact Statement" for the southern portion of the town were discussed.

It is good that the Planning Board is listening to the public . . . but disappointing that the PB seems to be unable to "make its case" to control development.

The speakers at the hearing, which lasted nearly three hours, opposed the study’s recommendation to implement a 5-acre zoning in the area.

Most of them were farmers or large land-owners from the area south of the village of New Hartford. They said their land was an important asset and they wanted the freedom to sell it whatever way they wished.

While landowners may feel entitled to do whatever they want to do with their land, they (1) are not entitled to public assistance when doing it and (2) are not entitled to do things that cause harm to others.

What should now be obvious in our area of declining population, when waterlines, sewer lines, roads, and public services are extended into the countryside, they are subsidized by the taxes and fees imposed on those living in the population centers. The further out the infrastructure and services go, the greater the per capita cost of government for everyone. That is a form of public assistance to developers. We have already exceeded what is affordable here.

Without public water and sewer, the ability to build in outlying areas would already be somewhat limited and might even eliminate the need for the 5 acre zoning. Unfortunately, we've lost control of where waterlines and sewer lines go -- each spun off into their own agencies -- so land use regulations become a necessary evil.

New Hartford has some major problems coping with the effects of development -- stormwater runoff being one of the biggest. Developments are created on former farmlands, enriching their former landowners, but the taxpayers get stuck with having to build and maintain new drainage systems to accommodate the runoff from the new developments. There is something wrong with this system. The proposed 5-acre requirement is an attempt to address the issue.

I happen to disagree with the 5-acre requirement, too, but not for the reasons expressed by the landowners. Although clustering of development will be permitted, it is not required. Five-acre lots could encourage development that is very spread out -- exacerbating the costs associated with urban sprawl. A better way to control storm water is to control the land use itself, allowing only so much to be covered with impervious surfaces and requiring maintenance of adequate stands of forests or other vegetation to control runoff.

To address the concerns expressed by the landowners: Whether one invests in stocks or in land, there is no guarantee of a return on the investment .. and there certainly should be no guarantee paid for by the taxpayers.

To address the concerns of the Planning Board: You need to do a better job explaining why your plans are needed ... and go back to the drawing board and come up with alternatives to 5 acre lots for controlling runoff.

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