From day-to-day operations to antiquated practices, growth guide effects change.

By Bruce Smith

The most important planning document in almost a century will soon make its way to the nation's 50 state legislatures and, for better or for worse, may have a significant effect on growth and development for decades to come.

The American Planning Association (APA) wrote the "Growing Smart Legislative Guidebook" because of a belief that existing state planning enabling statutes--in many cases written in the first half of the 20th century--were not adequate to meet the challenges of setting planning and land-use policy in 21st century America.

Options range

Presented as policy alternatives for states to consider, the guidebook's model planning statutes cover many things that affect a builder's day-to-day activities: The processing of development approvals; vesting rights; impact fees; urban growth boundaries; and who is allowed to sue to stop a development project. The application of these planning ideas could have a profound effect on builders and developers across the country.

The legislative guidebook is not a single model code. Rather, it offers a range of options for reforming existing land-use and planning enabling statutes. States may choose those options that they feel work best for their situation and then revise the model language to suit their specific needs.

Pros and cons

We think that APA's "Growing Smart" will prompt many states to review and change their planning and land-use laws. This, in turn, could lead to changes at the local level in thousands of jurisdictions across the country. For this reason, developers and home builders must be prepared to help shape growth policy at the state and local level.

Illustration: John Hansel

Builders and developers should note that there are many proposed reforms within the "Growing Smart Legislative Guidebook" that the building industry has sought for some time. Much of the guidebook is an essentially neutral modernization of laws that are more than 50 years old.

Unfortunately, there are also problems with the guidebook. For example, the book contains options on a number of procedural issues that would, where passed into law, make it difficult for applicants to ever get a timely and certain land-use decision.

Informed consent

The NAHB has been involved in the "Growing Smart" project since its inception in 1995 and has worked closely with its authors to minimize onerous and negative proposals.

Because the guidebook could be a catalyst for review of and changes to existing land-use laws, the NAHB is developing resources to inform members, the public, and policy makers about its proposals. In particular, the NAHB is writing a detailed "Builders Guide to the APA's 'Growing Smart Legislative Guidebook,'" which will soon be available to help ensure that members of the home building industry are prepared to shape growth policy in their own communities.