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Privatization Over True Regional Planning

Is planning at the regional level useless when it comes to land use planning? You could make strong arguments either for or against regional planning. An op-ed article on Planetizen by David Renkert argues that the future of regional planning lies in private property owners. He argues that they are in the best position to shape regional land use, which would essentially make planners the liaisons between these private owners and the “public good.” Renkert writes, “When was the last time you saw a property owner involved in a planning meeting that didn’t specifically address the owner and the owner’s property? The public, property owners in particular, have grown apathetic to planning. They know that a few years down the road “something” will change and any decision made today will simply be decided again later.” This is an excellent point.

I can perhaps offer a unique perspective on this article. I have worked for both a regional planning commission and currently work for a city that is beginning to implement the exact type of planning Mr. Renkert is talking about (See: The Laguna Ridge Specific Plan). These type of partnerships between private owners and public agencies can help manage growth, ensure quality development in the region’s best interest, and still give financial security to private property owners. I do not believe that this renders regional planning useless, it can still serve as the backbone of a healthy region (or the contrary). What most people do not realize is that Federal transportation funding is controlled at the regional level to a large extent. Therefore, most major transportation decisions are made by the regional planning agency, and there is no greater effect on land use than transportation. So, saying that private property owners will be the entire future of regional planning I do not think is necessarily true, unless they start attending those meetings that no one attends. Because their land cannot reach its maximum potential without the proper transportation connections to the major urban cores. If these public/private partnerships are to be successful, planners need to educate the public and elected officials on the importance of walkable, compact places and the effects on quality of life in places that are not developed using smart growth concepts.

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  • David Renkert November 3, 2005, 4:14 pm

    Thanks for the comments, Eric. You are exactly right about transportation funding driving sprawl. I do not mean to say regional planning is useless, regional planning must happen. It protect property values, resources, and helps maintain community character. The problem is piecemeal implementation and the changes that occur over time. Most plans die a death of a thousand cuts.

    Specific plans are an excellent way to develop areas, but in many cases (see http://www.sanjoseca.gov/coyotevalley/) some property owners are forced to ‘provide’ the open space for those whose properties will be developed. Essentially, properties on one side of road are worth millions and 16ft. away they’re worth relatively little to nothing.

    Landpool Partners (www.landpooling.com) is promoting a better way to do things. In the case of Coyote Valley, a corporate partnership consisting of all the properties in the valley should be formed. Property owners would assign ‘rights’ to the entity, much like with conservation easements. The value of the rights is determined by market or assessed values, then each participant would have an pro rata equity share in the specific plan. Regardless of where open space or development occurs, property owners recieve equity in the deal. This process allows a plan to maximize the value of the area to be implemented over time (as demands and absorption rates dictate) while preventing the fragmentation of the opportunity. For those who require income, they can sell their property subject to the specific plan or sell all or a portion of their shares in the deal. This scenario would be more equitable and reduce litigation. It would also create more value by reducing parcel-based risk, creating economies of scale, and offering a wider range from private and public funding sources.

  • Eric November 7, 2005, 10:54 pm

    Hi David,

    Thanks for the information and the link. I have heard of this concept before, and it does seem like a no-brainer approach to implementing specific plans. Mainly you see it in the form of conservation easements, as you mentioned. This type of partnership can help solve a few other problems, for instance, a lot of people do not even understand the concept of general plans and this would help them become more involved in the process. So many times a property owner has come in and I can see the look on their faces when I tell them what they can and cannot do (whether good or bad). Even though I am a planner, I strongly believe in land value maximization for the individual property owner. With that said, I think North America has lost sight of what good planning can do to achieve profit maximization.

    Where regional planning really fails in America is linking land use and transportation planning. This was one of the reasons why I created this site – to promote walkable neighborhoods at every level of planning. A region is only as strong as its collective neighborhoods, and certainly I think Landpooling can help bring everyone together on the same page for neighborhood and community planning.

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