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The Eleventh Smart Growth Principle

Sprawl is reaching military installations and threatening the nation's defense capabilities.
June 24, 2003, 12am PDT | Joel S. Hirschhorn
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 Joel HirschhornYou might think if ten commandments were sufficient, then why is an eleventh smart growth principle needed? It is and this is why.

Sprawl's tentacles have reached out to choke military facilities, including bases, training ranges, airfields and air corridors. The phenomenon is called encroachment. Some land uses do not impact military operations, but many do and these are called incompatible land uses. A big problem is sprawl housing and schools that put people in harm's way of aircraft accidents and exploding ordinance, for example. Residents who move close to military installations complain a lot about noise and other effects from aircraft and various types of training operations. Angry residents apply pressure on elected officials. The result often is a loss of mission capabilities and flexibility. The mere presence of development can sometimes be a problem, such as lights interfering with night operations.

The armed services have tried many things to limit incompatible land development around once isolated facilities. They have not been effective enough. Land developers and home builders often ignore advisories, and strong zoning restrictions have not been used enough by local governments. In many places there is no legal requirement to disclose to home buyers and renters that an active military facility is close enough to impact their location.

When encroachment has major impacts it jeopardizes the long term viability of military facilities because future base closings are determined, in part, on impacts of encroachment. Base closings threaten local and state economies, because direct and indirect economic contributions of military activities can be as large as or larger than major industrial and commercial activities.

The encroachment situation has become so threatening that some local and state governments have been taking major steps to prevent future incompatible land uses near military facilities, and many more such actions are likely. Two National Governors Association (NGA) reports provide considerable information on encroachment and the policy strategies to address it. (see,1188,D_4504,00.html)

And now to the eleventh smart growth principle. At NGA's last winter meeting of the governors the existing Principles for Better Land Use policy, that includes the original ten smart growth principles, was amended with this eleventh principle:

  • encourage local land-use planning for compatible uses near military installations.

Other groups should also consider adopting and actively supporting this encroachment principle, because it is a logical and needed addition to the national smart growth movement. Encroachment threatens national defense capabilities and, therefore, adopting the eleventh principle is also being patriotic. Conversely, among sprawl's many negatives you can add that it can also be unpatriotic.

Joel Hirschhorn lives in an old neighborhood near Rock Creek Park in Chevy Chase, Maryland, very close to Washington, D.C., and likes it much more than the suburban sprawl subdivision he once lived in. He has worked in the environmental and policy areas for many years and is currently Director of the Natural Resources Policy Studies of the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices. The views expressed here are solely those of the author.


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