Congress debates sprawl solution.

By Iris Richmond

Does land use planning, traditionally a responsibility of local governments, need help from the feds? Supporters of the Community Character Act think so. Passed by the Senate's Environment and Public Works committee in April, the legislation (S. 975) provides funding incentives ? $25 to $50 million per year for five years ? for federal and state agencies to reform "outdated" state planning statutes. It seeks the implementation of prescribed planning techniques, providing model legislation.

Critics of the bill contend that federal involvement in state land plans violates the Constitution's 10th amendment, which states that all powers not explicitly given to the federal government are reserved for the states. Further, organizations such as the NAHB, and even HUD, take issue with the prescriptive measures attached to the bill. "The problem is, of course, that what would be good for one community could be bad for another," says HUD secretary Mel Menendez.

The bill's sponsors say it does not impose federal planning mandates ? and that opposition to the act is based on opponents' misunderstanding of what it would do, according to Jeff Neal, press secretary for Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, main sponsor of the bill.

The bill awaits an audience on the Senate floor, which could happen by the end of the year.

Published in BIG BUILDER Magazine, June 2002