Creating Rural ‘Smart Growth’

[imgbelt img=ElDorado_NationalTrustforHistoricPreservation.jpg] Following “smart growth” practices can help rural towns thrive, according to a report from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.



The report is aimed at all rural places, whether they are growing or shrinking. Most of the report consists of concrete suggestions. The recommendations are gathered under three goals. 

1. Support the rural landscape by creating an economic climate that enhances the viability of working lands and conserves natural lands;

2. Help existing places thrive by taking care of assets and investments such as downtowns, Main Streets, existing infrastructure, and places that the community values; and

3. Create great new places by building vibrant, enduring neighborhoods and communities that people, especially young people, don’t want to leave.

We’ve pulled some of the recommendations listed under each goal. We’ll begin with excerpts from the report with the first goal.

Goal One: Support the Rural Landscape

Use value taxation — Use value taxation (often called current use value taxation or preferential assessment) is a voluntary approach that allows land to be assessed at its current use value (as agriculture or forest land, for instance), rather than at its highest market value, which may include the value of the land based on its current use plus the underlying development rights that have not been exercised by the property owner.

Tax credits for conservation — Tax incentives for donating conservation easements can motivate a landowner to remain on the land. Federal, state, and local governments can grant tax credits for land donation or conservation easements.

Right to farm policies — Nuisance lawsuits, based on complaints from neighbors or strict local policies, seek to curtail normal farming activities. Right to farm ordinances and laws protect farmers, ranchers, and foresters by preventing these lawsuits from succeeding in court.

Purchase of development rights — Purchase of development rights (PDR) is a voluntary program in which a land trust or other agency buys the development rights to a parcel from the landowner. The landowner is free to turn down the offer or try to negotiate a higher price. Once an agreement is made, a permanent deed restriction is placed on the property restricting the type of activities that may take place on the land in perpetuity.

Government purchase of local products — Increasingly, state and local governments are contracting with regional farmers to supply food for public institutions such as schools, prisons, and government offices.

“Buy local” campaigns — Many local and state governments assist their agricultural regions by holding annual festivals and helping to promote their products as a unified brand. “Buy local” campaigns, ranging from “Alaska Grown” to “Something Special From Wisconsin” to “Fresh From Florida,” increase the share of the market dedicated to local products and remind consumers of the value of rural lands.

Goal Two: Help Existing Places Thrive

Fix-it-first —Communities can employ a “fix-it-first” approach to infrastructure spending in order to help existing places thrive. A fix-it-first approach means that communities will prioritize public funding to repair, restore, and conduct preventive maintenance on existing infrastructure, including buildings, roads, and water and sewer lines, before building new infrastructure.

Goal Three: Create Great New Places

Visioning — Before a community creates or updates its comprehensive plan or makes other important growth and development decisions, it is helpful for the community to undergo a visioning process to articulate a broad vision of itself into the future.

Places worth preserving — Before deciding where great new places should be located, the community should consider which land and resources are important to conserve for economic, cultural, or ecological reasons.

Infrastructure grid and transportation options — Placing infrastructure along a grid is not only efficient— it also allows for easy expansion.