I live in Springfield, so I have a big problem with the conclusions brought forth in this article. The article says:
Clay and other conservationists are quick to say they’re not opposed to construction of new homes and businesses. They just want it to happen in existing downtowns, like Springfield, Greenfield and Brattleboro. Run-down single-family homes can be replaced with small, energy-efficient apartment buildings. New stores can be built on the vast, usually half-empty parking lots around strip mall shopping centers. If more parking is really needed, multi-story garages can be erected.
It then later says:
Help bust the myth that more development will reduce property taxes. A recent study by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns is among several studies that have found that the New England towns that have preserved the most land from development have the lowest property taxes. That’s because they don’t need to spend as much on services like police and fire protection, roads and schools.
The people behind this smart growth initiative are saying that expensive McMansions aren’t worth it because they cost more in services than the property taxes that can be collected from them, but their answer for growth is to tear down single-family houses in cities like Springfield and put up cheap apartment buildings.
If an expensive McMansion in a wealthy community isn’t sustainable, then how could cheap units — perhaps 1/10 the per-unit value — in a poor community like Springfield be sustainable? And why would someone choose to live in a cheap apartment building over a suburban McMansion, especially when the quality of life in the city is far lower than the suburban community?
I believe in dense living, but this state has to invest to make it work. Dense living brings additional costs, such as:
- More responsive fire department since a fire in a dense neighborhood threatens more people.
- More policing, especially community policing which combats quality-of-life issues, because troublemakers in dense communities affect more people, and a shooting could make tens of thousands of people in close proximity feel threatened.
- Tigher code enforcement (which costs money), because run-down properties in dense neighborhoods are very visible, and because multi-unit property that is not owner-occupied frequently gets little attention by its investment-owners.
- Sidewalks must be constructed to support the walking environments that dense development favors.
- More traffic enforcement is needed to protect the pedestrian community.
- Trash service needs to be paid for, since garbage in close quarters has the potential to cause disease.
- Parkland must be constructed and maintained to make up for the smaller lots that each house sits on.
- If there is a concentration of low-income children, education costs will be higher because history has shown that low-income children face more educational challenges than children from wealthy families.
Since the primary source of municipal funding is via the property tax, building cheaper, denser units means increased costs and decreased revenue. That simply doesn’t add up.
When the increased cost of dense development is not mentioned in articles touting this plan, the entire plan smacks of a “pull up the ladder” scheme by people who want to increase the value of their land, increase their quality of life, and decrease their taxes.
I propose that in order to solve the growth problem, the state has to level the playing field and provide residents in denser communities with more opportunities than are available to communities that are build on sprawl.
This would increase the demand in dense communities, and decrease it in communities that we want to preserve. Prices would equalize across the state, and economic segregation would be reduced.
Is this a plan that our mostly Democratic, but mostly suburban legislature will address? Or are they content to artificially increase the property values of their constituents, keep their taxes artificially low, and ignore both the problems our cities face and our shrinking population coupled with dwindling economic opportunities?