RI Regional Plan Strips Property Rights

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Mixed-use-CC-by-Peter-l-French-300x225With an area of 1212 square miles, Rhode Island is the small­est of the fifty states, but is about to take one of the biggest leaps in the nation.  The RI Divi­sion of Plan­ning is advanc­ing a HUD sup­port­ed sus­tain­able devel­op­ment plan that cre­ates a sin­gle region out of every coun­ty, city and com­mu­ni­ty in the state.

Though labeled Eco­nom­ic Devel­op­ment, the state plan links social jus­tice, the econ­o­my and the envi­ron­ment in an expan­sive pack­age that defines where and how future Rhode Islanders will live and work.

State offi­cials deny pro­test­ers’ claims that region­al­ism steals prop­er­ty rights and chal­lenges them to point to any exam­ples.  The chal­lenge sug­gests that the Divi­sion of Plan­ning has not thor­ough­ly researched the results of region­al efforts.

Plan Bay Area is a region­al plan encom­pass­ing nine coun­ties in and near San Fran­cis­co.  Like the RI pro­pos­al, it invokes growth zones, walk­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties, reduced vehi­cle miles trav­eled and all of the boil­er­plate com­po­nents of region­al social engi­neer­ing.  Thou­sands of res­i­dents in the plan’s PDAs’, or pre­ferred devel­op­ment areas, are not hap­py.  In spite of their protests, these com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers are los­ing their land and their homes to make way for so-called smart growth.  As the plan steam­rolls for­ward, these Bay Area res­i­dents see their pr per­ty rights disappearing.

What hap­pened to the prop­er­ty rights of the 10,000 peo­ple of col­or, eco­nom­i­cal­ly forced out of their homes in Port­land, Ore­gon?  In the 1980’s, before the Port­land Metro’s Region­al land use poli­cies took hold, over 65% of Port­landers could afford a medi­an-priced home.  By 2001 that fig­ure had dropped to less than 30%.  Thanks to region­al plan­ning, Port­land now has a rep­u­ta­tion for being one of the whitest and least afford­able cities in the nation.   The city the NYT admir­ing­ly calls, “A Liv­able Shade of Green”, is not so liv­able for the fam­i­lies who can no longer afford their homes.

The Mia­mi Val­ley Region­al Plan­ning Coun­cil (MVRPC) in SE Ohio offers a crys­talline view of Rhode Islanders’ future if com­mu­ni­ty res­i­dents allow the state’s Eco­nom­ic Devel­op­ment Plan to proceed.

The MVRPC’s unelect­ed coun­cil vot­ed to build a $5 mil­lion bike path.  To ease imple­men­ta­tion, they rolled their plan into the local county’s $65 mil­lion road widen­ing project. The bike path came with­in 7 feet of the front door of the his­toric, 150-year-old home of Jen­nie Grana­to and her fam­i­ly.  The Granatos had fixed a ramp to the door­way allow­ing wheel­chair access for Jennie’s 84-year-old grand­moth­er.   Real­iz­ing they had prop­er­ty rights, Jen­nie approached the region­al coun­cil request­ing the bike trail be locat­ed else­where.  The MVRPC told her this was a coun­ty issue since they had the road-widen­ing project.  In turn, the coun­ty told Grana­to it was a region­al issue since the bike path was an MVRPC plan.  To add insult, many of the coun­ty offi­cials also sat on the region­al coun­cil as they yo-yoed the Granatos between the agencies.

After months of unre­turned phone calls and promised meet­ings that nev­er occurred, the coun­ty took her prop­er­ty by emi­nent domain.   They offered her the embar­rass­ing sum of $24,000, which she final­ly had increased, only after a drain­ing court battle.

The loss of prop­er­ty rights as region­al coun­cils squeeze home­own­ers into growth zones with ever-small­er homes and ever-increas­ing price tags is ram­pant across the nation.  Fed­er­al agen­cies like HUD chan­nel mil­lions in grant mon­ey to cash-strapped states and plan­ners in turn for man­dates that bind the new­ly formed regions to boost pre-planned com­mu­ni­ties with few local choic­es. Res­i­dents are stuck with the bill.

In 1790, Rhode Island was the last of the orig­i­nal 13 colonies to rat­i­fy the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion.  The states’ fierce­ly inde­pen­dent inhab­i­tants were sus­pi­cious of cen­tral­ized gov­ern­ment.  Today that cen­tral­ized gov­ern­ment is in Prov­i­dence, and it is strip­ping away the very rights their ances­tors fought so hard to maintain.