The Difference between Planning and Social Engineering
By Henry Lamb
About ten miles beyond the Libertyville city limit is a farm owned by Grandpa Jones. The farm has been in the Jones family for three generations, but now all the Jones kids are grown and have moved away. Grandpa Jones has decided to sell his 1,600-acre farm and retire. He made a deal with ABC Developers to sell the farm for $1.6 million, subject to approval of ABC’s subdivision plan by the Planning Commission.
ABC presented the plan for “Pleasant Acres” to the Planning Commission. It proposed changing the zoning of 1,400 acres from agriculture to residential, and 200 acres to commercial. It dedicated 100 acres to the county school board, which would be held for ten years for the school board to purchase at the same price ABC originally paid for the property. It proposed a final build-out of 3,250 homes (2.5 homes per acre). It proposed a shopping center for the 200 acres zoned commercial.
The Planning Commission met and determined that the highway to Pleasant Acres would have to be widened, water and sewer lines extended, and utilities upgraded, at a substantial cost to the county. Currently, the Jones farm produced annual tax revenue paid by a single owner at the lowest county rate. Should the plan be approved, the same property would produce tax revenue paid by more than 3,000 owners at the residential and commercial rates. The increase in tax revenue would far more than justify the county’s investment in road and utility upgrades. The project would also bring new jobs to the community. The plan was approved.
About ten miles beyond Greenville’s city limit is a farm owned by Grandpa Smith. The farm has been in the Smith family for three generations, but now all the Smith kids are grown and have moved away. Grandpa Smith has decided to sell his 1,600-acre farm and retire. He made a deal with ABC Developers to sell the farm for $1.6 million, subject to approval of ABC’s subdivision plan by the Planning Commission.
ABC presented the plan for “Green Acres” to the Greenville Planning Commission. It proposed changing the zoning of 1,400 acres from agriculture to residential, and 200 acres to commercial. It dedicated 100 acres to the county school board, which would be held for ten years for the school board to purchase at the same price ABC originally paid for the property. It proposed a final build-out of 3,250 homes (2.5 homes per acre). It proposed a shopping center for the 200-acres zoned commercial.
The Planning Commission met. The County’s comprehensive land use plan includes an Urban Boundary Zone that falls just inside the Jones farm, and utilities cannot be extended to the entire proposed subdivision. The county’s land use plan requires that 20% of the total land area of the proposed development be dedicated to the county for public use. This same rule is specified by the Memphis, Shelby County Unified Plan (18:20). Moreover, the county’s comprehensive land use plan overlay designates 500 acres of the best river-bottom land on the Smith farm as a Natural Resource Protection Area where no construction or disturbance may occur, similar to a provision of the Collier County, Florida comprehensive plan (at 5:30). The county’s “open space” provision in the county plan allows only one structure per 40 acres on the remaining land; Houston County, Minnesota has a similar requirement in its plan. This means that ABC Developers could build only 28 new houses on the remaining 1,100 acres.
The project would not be economically viable. ABC abandoned the project. No new tax revenue for the county; no new jobs for the local economy. No retirement income for Grandpa Smith, and no way for him to get the real value of his land because the county’s codes have stripped the land of its value. The county has taken the value of the land, but not the land itself; therefore, the county owes Grandpa nothing.
This is social engineering.
Local government planning should, first of all, protect the private property rights of its citizens. The legitimate function of local planning is to facilitate the safe and coordinated exercise of the free market in real estate and commerce.
Social engineering, on the other hand, is the result of professional planners creating a vision of what they think a community should be in the future. What the landowners may want is not a factor in the design. What the planners think the broader community will want, such as open space and protected wildlife areas, outweighs private property rights or what landowners may want.
Since the emergence of Agenda 21 in 1992, a rash of “visioning sessions” have produce local comprehensive land use plans, promoted by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, in more than 600 local communities. This process is transforming legitimate local planning into social engineering. This process is eroding private property rights. This process must be reversed.
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