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Wednesday October 18, 2000

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Professor, planners and activists take sides on initiative

By Rebecca Missel

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Proposition 202 will present challenges to planners, student says

As commutes across Tucson take longer every day and as the brown cloud over the city looms ominously, voters have the opportunity next month to vote on growth control.

Proposition 202, also known as the Citizens Growth Management Initiative, requires all cities with populations more than 2,500 to set growth boundaries.

For students just entering the planning field, any ballot measures to control growth present challenges.

"It's a tricky thing," said Nick Chapin, planning graduate student. "From the planner's perspective, it's easier because it decreases the growth rate and allows time to plan for infrastructure improvement."

Establishing boundaries is vital to maintaining the quality of the current city, Chapin said.

"They're saying that up to here is city, and we're focusing on that," he said. "This helps the city out because otherwise, they're trying to play a catch-up game."

Currently, the public is in charge of paying for growth needs such as schools, streets, water pipes, police and fire service. This new initiative puts those costs on the developers.

One of the problems with Proposition 202 is that guidelines for city growth are based on population projections that are not absolutely factual, said Barbara Becker, director of the University of Arizona School of Planning.

"202 is fairly severe," said Becker, an associate professor in planning. "It draws a line in the sand and says absolutely no growth."

Another difficulty is that in order to change zoning or to extend the boundaries, a vote must be called.

"Citizens should have as much say as possible with rezoning, but it costs millions to do a ballot and is very time consuming," she said. "This plan is just one tool that's a little chancy."

With an emphasis on filling in already-developed areas, Chapin said students will begin course work in new areas.

"The architecture school itself will probably change and add a couple of projects," he said. "We need experience in school so that we're marketable."

At first, people might feel uncomfortable with the reduction in personal space, but people need to remember that preserving natural beauty is important, Becker said.

"The bottom line is that anyone who pushes a measure is saying, 'Stop and rethink the American Dream of the single-family home,'" she said. "We think we need so much more space as individuals."

Students and faculty members might agree that the initiative has both its good and bad points, but the debate over growth management has become a major issue in next month's election.

Most of the controversy is between supporters of Proposition 202 and those who believe Gov. Jane Hull's Growing Smarter Plus plan, already in effect, is adequate.

"Proposition 202 is needed because right now, an acre of the desert is lost every two hours," said Keith Bagwell, Southern Arizona coordinator for the Citizens Growth Management Initiative. "There's unbelievable sprawl, and it costs the taxpayers millions."

If Prop. 202 passes, in cities with more than 2,500 people, the community will have to hold a hearing to decide how and where they want to grow, Bagwell said.

"There's no leap-frog sprawl, and the developers are the only losers in this thing," he said. "Planners will get more work done in the future, and they'll have the chance to do innovative things."

With the initiative implemented, Bagwell said he hoped to see urban villages created with centralized activity centers and a light rail system.

"There are exciting possibilities with voter-approved citizen participation," he said. "And it won't cost taxpayers a dime."

Maeve Johnson, executive director of Valley Partnership, a non-profit corporation that advocates responsible development, disagreed with Bagwell.

"This is a one-size-fits-all solution," she said.

Since the proposition applies to the entire state, Johnson said its major flaw is that what might work for Tucson might not help a smaller city like Cottonwood.

"There are other ways besides placing a strict ring around the community," she said. "It doesn't do anything to preserve open space."

Opponents of Proposition 202 also argue that its passage will hurt developers' business because of the boundaries.

"Clearly, this is not something that we believe is necessary," said Art Flagg, director of land for nationwide developing firm Kaufman and Broad. "The initiative goes too far with what it is trying to accomplish."

Existing regulations and practices allow developers to do everything necessary to control growth, Flagg said.

"I don't think we need that kind of help," he said. "Growing Smarter Plus is more in keeping with growth in places where we have infrastructure available."

As developers worry about declining job offers, professional planners think the proposition will have little effect.

"It's not going to change a lot," said Dean Brennan, president of the Arizona Planning Association. "We are maintaining neutrality because we'll focus on facts rather than taking sides."

Brennan, whose organization has about 1,000 members statewide, said growth is a problem, and the issues surrounding growth such as air quality and environmental impact will only get worse without any regulation.

"We can't stop growth, but we can control it in the best interest of the community and create livable and sustainable neighborhoods," Brennan said.

Contrary to supporters of the initiative, Johnson believed urban sprawl is not even present in many Arizona locations.

"We don't want to sacrifice people's jobs or economic vitality because of the environment or destroy the environment for the economy," she said. "We risk stopping democracy where we elect officials, and we become a majority-rule government."

If voters approve Proposition 202, Johnson said there would be three major negative results. First, developers, architects and bankers would suffer a period of "chaos and confusion."

Second, housing costs would rise as cities became more congested, she said.

Third, a lack of regional management creates a sense of competition and divisiveness between municipalities, Johnson said.

"Each city is its own little kingdom," she said.