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Can’t get a tee time

We who argue that those who live in a place should have some control over its future, are always being demonized by the growth machine. “You want to close the gate after you have gotten in” we are told. For a farmer, closing the gate is just plain good husbandry.

Because Neil Williamson [Opinionated, May 29, 2007] speaks for the hugely profitable development community, a more fitting analogy is: an exclusive country club.

Recent arrivals to our region have made a serious investment  in their future. It is as if they have bought a lifetime membership in an upscale country club—a membership they cannot get out of without uprooting themselves from their adopted community. If Albemarle County were like that country club, how would current members feel if the sales staff kept selling new memberships? So what if we were told that tennis courts would always be available, now there is a two-day wait. The swimming pool is over-run and tee times—forget it!

I, like most of us, can’t afford an exclusive country club, but I recognize when the sales staff is selling something that belongs not to them, but to my neighbors and me. They are selling the place that we call home, putting off on us the increased taxes, the crowded facilities, the traffic jams and the degraded environment. We pay the cost and they profit.

I am a firm believer in free markets, but I also believe that free enterprise must involve willing sellers and willing buyers. Those who own what is being sold by the growth machine are all of us and our progeny. An effort to determine just how much of this place should be sold to profit a few is a responsible use of government funds.

Williamson states that 33 percent of growth in our region is natural. So be it. With over 18,000 lots created by existing subdivisions, there is plenty of room for natural growth. What about the 67 percent growth that is developer driven and already supported by tax investment in infrastructure? Shouldn’t those who live here have a say in that process?
Bringing up the totally bogus comparison to China’s population policies is a desperate attempt to distract us from a serious debate about the costs of growth. No matter what Williamson asserts, growth issues are about the environment, taxes and our quality of life. What is he really afraid of?

Al Weed
Charlottesville

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Size matters

Most informed Americans now recognize the common-sense proposition that there are limits to population growth in any finite area. While growth can be good up to a point, thoughtful people no longer believe the number of residents of our local communities can increase endlessly without changing the character of places and endangering ecosystems. Among reasonable people, arguments about expanding populations focus not on whether there are limits to growth, but on what those limits should be, and how they’ll be achieved.

But a minority in our community clings to the belief that population growth is always good, and still advances the discredited myth that an unfettered capitalist economic system will somehow provide market-driven solutions to problems caused or exacerbated by growth: lack of affordable housing, polluted air and streams, congested traffic, school redistricting, etc. Sure, growth is good for the few who profit from it. But all of us have to pay higher taxes for the infrastructure to service an expanding population, and for cleaning up an increasingly degraded environment.

The Opinionated column [May 29, 2007] attacked an ASAP proposal to explore the feasibility of identifying an optimal sustainable population size for our Charlottesville/Albemarle community. Somehow threatened by ASAP’s notion, the author resorted to demagoguery to vilify the proposed study: “elitist NIMBY vision,” “build a moat around Albemarle County,” “forced to relinquish the freedom to breed,” and conjured up images of copying “China’s one-child policy.”

The fact is that Albemarle County already has a legal limit on growth. It’s determined by regulations, primarily zoning, that define how land is used for building houses and apartments. No one has accurately calculated our theoretical build-out population despite its relevance as a key planning tool.

We should know not just the current build-out potential, but should also estimate our optimal sustainable population size and use that to help guide decisions about continued development. Our community—the city and county together—has about 130,000 residents. What size would we want to ensure the quality of life current citizens expect and deserve, and to protect our environment? Would a community size of 200,000 be optimal and sustainable? Four-hundred thousand (three times our present size)? A million?

Every community has the right—indeed, the responsibility—to determine for itself how big it wants to be. Without a rational and democratic effort to define the limits of our growth, citizens abandon our demographic fate either to accident or to the wishes of a powerful minority who profits from growth.

We urge pro-growth powers not to descend into demagoguery and denial about the impacts of growth, but to consider our expanding population realistically in a constructive conversation about our community’s future. Here’s a way to start: For those who oppose our community’s aiming toward an optimal sustainable population size, what alternative vision do you hold?

Jack Marshall
Charlottesville
President, Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population


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