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Local Land Use Controls That Achieve Smart Growth

September 2001

Citation: 31 ELR 11025

Issue: 9

Author: John R. Nolon

Smart Growth admits of no clear definition. It provides a popular label for a growth strategy that addresses current concerns about traffic congestion, disappearing open space, nonpoint source pollution, the high cost of housing, increasing local property taxes, longer commutes, and the diminishing quality of community life. To accomplish smart growth, government must take two related actions. The first is the designation of discrete geographical areas into which private market growth pressures are directed. The second is the designation of other areas for recreation, conservation, and environmental protection. This reduces a complicated subject to its two most essential features and leaves much for further discussion. This focus, however, permits a precise description of how smart growth can be implemented, if a consensus for it is developed.

The purpose of this Article is to illustrate the practical side of smart growth—the tools and techniques used by local governments in New York State to carry out smart growth strategies and, by example, to illustrate how communities in other states can do the same. New York is a particularly appropriate jurisdiction to use for such an exercise since its municipalities have been delegated ample authority to adopt creative land use strategies. The Article first discusses how local governments can encourage private sector development to occur in appropriate places. It then turns to an examination of how they can ensure the conservation of critical landscapes. If both are done effectively, smart growthobjectives are realized, at least at the local level.

[Editors' Note: This Article is included as a chapter in a new monograph on land use, smart growth, and sprawl authored by Professor Nolon and published by the Environmental Law Institute. The 11-chapter book places land use practice into the national perspective of sprawl and smart growth, by fully describing one of the nation's most complete state land use regimes-the New York system. The New York system is typical of the approaches and techniques used in most of the other fifty states. The book covers a period up to July of 2001, including commentary on Palazzollo v. Rhode Island.

The Monograph is currently available, and may be ordered by calling 1-800-433-5120 or 202-939-3844. For additional information, visit our website at www.eli.org or see the ad on the back cover of this issue.]

The author is Charles A. Frueauff Professor of Law, Pace University School of Law, Director of the School's Land Use Law Center and Joint Center for Land Use Studies, and an Adjunct Professor at the Yale Graduate School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. This Article is adapted from a new book published by the Environmental Law Institute, Well Grounded: Using Local Land Use Authority to Achieve Smart Growth. The book explores the growing interest in land use law and practice that has been stimulated by the public's increasing disfavor with urban sprawl and its support of smart growth initiatives.

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