How Some Other States Manage Growth
Maryland approved its Smart Growth Initiative in 1997. Nine other states have comprehensive growth management laws: Hawaii (1961), Vermont (1970), Florida (1972), Oregon (1973), Georgia (1974), New Jersey (1985), Maine (1987), Rhode Island (1988), and Washington (1990). Among the best are: VERMONT CONTACTS: OREGON CONTACTS: WASHINGTON CONTACTS: Smart Growth Network A national coalition of private, public, and non-profit groups, the Smart Growth Network gives government officials, community advocates, and developers the information and tools they need to pilot money-saving investments that reap environmental and economic benefits. Membership costs $29 per year. To find out more, call 202-962-3591, or write the International City/County Management Association, 777 N. Capitol St. N.E., Suite 500, Washington, D.C. 20002, or check out the web site at
Vermont enacted its growth management law in 1970, motivated by a wave of second home building, new ski resorts, and interstate highways. Act 250 requires state permits to build malls, subdivisions, industrial plants, roads and other "major projects." Nine district environmental commissions have the authority to approve or deny permits on the basis of the following criteria.
Does the proposed development:
• Conform to a community's town plan?
• Cause undue harm to scenic or natural beauty?
• Damage the environment?
• Unduly burden municipal services?
• Cause traffic congestion?
• Cause "scattered development" and higher municipal expenses?
• Damage forests and farm fields?
In 1988, after citizens and developers criticized the criteria for not being specific enough, Vermont strengthened its program by including 12 more planning goals. They include:
• Protecting the state's historic landscape.
• Directing growth toward existing town centers.
• Preserving the rural countryside.
Vermont encouraged cities and towns to prepare new comprehensive plans, and strengthened the regional planning system. Vermont also requires spending by state agencies for roads, buildings, and other construction projects to comply with the planning goals, and with regional and local plans.
Oregon has the most effective growth management program in the United States. The 1973 law, created with the strong leadership of Gov. Tom McCall, set 19 statewide planning goals and required all cities and counties to prepare comprehensive land use plans to meet those goals. The law established the Department of Land Conservation and Development, overseen by a citizens commission, which has broad powers to review and approve each of the plans. Oregon's growth management law also established a Land Use Board of Appeals to decide disputes.
One of the truly innovative aspects of Oregon's planning law is Goal 14 -- to "provide for an orderly and efficient transition from rural to urban land use." In order to put this goal into effect, Oregon required every city to draw a line around itself. Development is confined inside this "urban growth boundary." Land outside it remains farm land, forest, and natural areas.
Boundaries were required to be large enough to accommodate anticipated growth over the next generation, but not so large as to encourage sprawl. For example, the Portland metropolitan urban growth boundary encompassed 221,000 acres when it was approved in 1984. In 1990, it was expanded by 2,515 acres, enough to accommodate growth until 2010. In 1997, it was expanded 4,500 more acres, to last until 2025.
For the past 25 years naysayers have persistently claimed that Oregon's firm land use regulations would stifle economic development. Time has proven, however, that the program has made Oregon one of the most desirable states to live, and has helped turn Portland into one of the most beautiful and economically vibrant cities in the nation.
In 1990 Washington approved a growth management law, inspired by Oregon's, that established 13 statewide planning goals. The law applies to all counties and cities, but is chiefly aimed at the fastest-growing areas. It requires these regions to draw up new comprehensive plans and to establish growth boundaries. The state Department of Community Trade and Economic Development reviews the plans, but unlike Oregon does not formally sanction them.
In 1991 the Legislature established three Regional Growth Management Hearing Boards, located in Seattle, Olympia, and Spokane. The Boards hear appeals brought by citizens, and occasionally by the state, to ensure that comprehensive plans and regulations are consistent with statewide goals. If the Hearing Boards find the plans are lacking, and communities do not repair the flaws, the governor can withhold state tax
Washington's program also directs all counties to use soil maps, land use maps, and other techniques to identify farmland, forest, and environmentally-sensitive lands. These areas are protected through zoning regu- lations, such as requiring buffers or a minimum home lot size of 80 acres.
Smart Growth Network A national coalition of private, public, and non-profit groups, the Smart Growth Network gives government officials, community advocates, and developers the information and tools they need to pilot money-saving investments that reap environmental and economic benefits. Membership costs $29 per year. To find out more, call 202-962-3591, or write the International City/County Management Association, 777 N. Capitol St. N.E., Suite 500, Washington, D.C. 20002, or check out the web site at