Why Growing Smarter Will Grow Old Fast

The so-called Growing Smarter measure would prevent the state from enacting strict growth controls. At the same time, however, it would free up $220 million for land preservation.

"Some people just wanted their way, or no way," the governor says.
The meetings led to the Growing Smarter Act and Proposition 303. The legislative effort was headed by Hull staffer Maria Bier and state Land Department preservation director Arlan Colton.

With more than a decade of municipal-planning experience, Colton quickly became the technical authority on land-use policies. Prior to coming to the Land Department, he served for 10 years in various planning roles in Pima County before becoming planning director for the Tucson Airport Authority.

Colton, Bier and several other state officials, including Representative Carolyn Allen, attended a Western Governor's Association meeting last year in Jackson, Wyoming, where preserving open space was the primary issue. The meeting spurred work throughout the winter and spring to develop legislative proposals to strengthen the ability of cities and counties to manage growth.

Among the proposals enacted by the Growing Smarter Act are requirements for more public participation in the development of long-term municipal plans, a two-thirds vote by the municipal authority to adopt or amend those plans and a requirement to have the detailed plans completed by December 31, 2001.

The law also requires municipal development plans to address elements that frequently were overlooked in the past. These include:

* Designating specific areas for open space.
* Identifying logical growth corridors.
* Describing environmental impacts from development.

* Having developers pay their "fair share" to defray the costs of new infrastructure. In government lexicon, such payments are called "impact fees."

* Sharing the completed planning document with neighboring municipalities to promote a regional outlook.

* Requiring a two-thirds vote to amend master plans.
* Encouraging the state Land Department to create and administer conceptual plans that are coordinated with local municipal plans.

The Growing Smarter Act also created the Growing Smarter Commission, a 15-member panel that will be appointed by the governor, the legislature and state agencies. The commission, along with its eight subcommittees, is to prepare recommendations on how to manage growth statewide by next September 1.

Hull gushes over the commission, which critics predict will produce a do-nothing report that will be shelved and forgotten.

"The most important thing [about Growing Smarter], which is what I wanted when we began last October, is a commission of 15 people that is going to look at a number of land-use areas," Hull says.

Although fervent environmentalists might wish to portray Growing Smarter as a compromised document, they must concede an incontrovertible fact: Its planning requirements and commission mark the first time the Arizona Legislature has come close to addressing statewide growth-control issues.

"We were able to make some really significant reforms and changes in the city and county enabling statutes," Colton says.

Even supporters of the law agree that much more work will be needed.
"This is a starting point," says Bank One's Roman.
While the legislature was approving the Growing Smarter bill, it was also voting to place Proposition 303 on the ballot. One key provision of Proposition 303 requires any money taken from the $20 million annual allotment for land preservation to be matched by private or municipal funds.

The legislature's offer to spend $20 million annually on open space is a stunning turnaround. Last year, state lawmakers refused to even consider a bill to spend $1 million to acquire environmentally sensitive lands from the state Land Department.

Why the abrupt turnaround?
"I'd like to think it was my charm," says Hull.
Hard-core environmentalists say the $20 million-per-year provision is designed to appease voters concerned about growth while acting as a smoke screen for developers, who will continue to reap the benefits of uncontrolled growth.

"This [Proposition 303] is a developer's wet dream," says Kieran Suckling of the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity.

The center is the most aggressive environmental group in the Southwest, if not the country, specializing in precise legal attacks to promote wilderness systems and protect endangered plants and animals.

The $20 million carrot enticed a cadre of preservationists who would rather find funds to purchase and protect specific tracts than engage in philosophical debates over private-property rights versus urban-growth boundaries.

Proposition 303 backers enlisted the services of one of the Valley's most notable preservationists to spearhead the campaign. Octogenarian Ruth Hamilton mastered environmental politics more than 30 years ago when she and several friends led the effort to create the Phoenix Mountains Preserve. A hiking trail--the most difficult in the preserve--is named after Hamilton in honor of her foresight, grit and political acumen.

The retired Republican businesswoman is a consummate arm-twister and close friend of Governor Hull. She says Proposition 303 is crucial to the preservation of critical desert washes and sensitive terrain.

"It is a wonderful opportunity for us to acquire land," Hamilton says. "If we don't get the land now that I want us to have, it is ripe for development, and I'm afraid the state Land Department will be forced to sell it."

Hamilton says she abhors the Sierra Club's urban-growth-boundary proposal because she says it will stymie economic development and do nothing to preserve open space. She also acknowledges that the $20 million per year from the legislature, along with the $20 million in matching funds, will not purchase much urban land.

But just because the money isn't as plentiful as she'd like is no reason to avoid setting goals to save sensitive areas, Hamilton says.

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