"Smart Growth" and "New Urbanism" Compared with "Large Lot Zoning" (Tom Lane) [ Home Page – Click Here]

(May 17, 2017) – Traditional "Large Lot Zoning" is "Greener" than "Smart Growth" within Urban Growth Boundaries . . . Copyright 2009 – 2017 . . . Tom Lane . . . Photographing California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington.

(Jan. 17, 2011) Seattle Smart Growth: Mountains to Sound Greenway (I-90) – Successful Example of Rich Philanthropists and Volunteers Building Trails (Part 3)

Under revision, Jan. 16, 2011

Above:  The sun comes out at sunset as a fall storm passes in Oct. 2010, lighting up the high desert in Bend, Oregon, where over 200 miles of singletrack bike trails have been maintained, without impact fees, by volunteers of the Central Oregon Trail Alliance (COTA), a chapter of the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA).

The COTA is one of many volunteer (philanthropic) organizations where the rich donate money, purchasing land for parks, where volunteers build trails, such as the 120 mile long Mountains to Sound Greenway extending east from Seattle along I-90.

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This is Part 3 of a 3 Part Series on the Greenway –

Part 1 –

Part 1 – Click this blue text for entry. (Jan. 3, 2011) Seattle Smart Growth: Mountains to Sound Greenway (I-90) includes Smart Growth Within Existing Urban Growth Boundaries (UGB’s) – (Part 1) – Click Here

Part 2 –

Part 2 – Click this blue text for entry. (Jan. 4, 2010) Seattle Smart Growth: Photos of Expensive Smart Growth on Mountains to Sound Greenway: Snoqualmie Ridge, Issaquah Highlands, Talus, and Suncadia – (Part 2) – Click Here

Background: Smart Growth Lacks Large Lots and Large Parks

Before we explore the necessity of rich philanthropists providing parks in our new world of congested smart growth … let’s look at the lack of native vegetation on tiny lots on narrow streets … in smart growth neighborhoods.

Overall, smart growth emphasizes maximizing the ratio between undeveloped natural areas versus sprawl, while limiting the amount of natural areas present on each property with tiny lot sizes, such as the developments Talus, Issaquah Highlands, and Snoqualmie Ridge along the Mountains to Sound Greenway, links to photos at this post.

Often, the surrounding undeveloped areas are owned by the developer (i.e. see the map of the Issaquah Highlands trail system below).

In these developments, undeveloped natural areas must remain in their “pristine” state, whereas developed properties often have very little vegetation, with large amounts of gravel and concrete, and few or no shade trees (see aerial images of Talus and Issaquah Highlands on Google in this post).

These developments were likely originally clearcut by timber companies, such as Port Blakely, who clearcut and built Issaquah Highlands. The loss of most of the tree canopy in these areas with resulting 80% to even 90% impervious cover is a tragedy, considering many studies linking the presence of large native trees to higher home values, less stormwater runoff, less urban heat island effect, less noise pollution,  higher bird species diversity and reproductive success, and most recently and most importantly, higher human birth weights.

In addition, close proximity to a major freeway has been air pollution has been linked to cardiovascular disease, obesity, attention deficits, and other serious conditions.  That should provide an impetus for requirements for maintaining native trees in all developments (references forthcoming; search Google for your particular disease).

Of course, many neighborhoods already maintain tree ordinances, and can serve as models for new smart growth (and other) developments, such as the City of Bellevue, Washington (.pdf link to their brochure). Bellevue’s specific “Tree Retention and Replacemnt” ordinance (20.20.900) explains the rationale for preserving native trees in Bellevue: Click Here.

I’m not sure if Eugene has a tree ordinance … check out this gorgeous photo in older highly coveted residential neighborhoods south of the University of Oregon:

Eugene, Oregon: Tree canopy over neighborhoods south of University of Oregon.

Bellevue vs. Issaquah Highlands

Clearly, Bellevue values its native trees and does not clearcut, even for new developments as explained at the links above.  Issaquah and Snoqualmie both clearcut for smart growth.  Indeed, unlike a farmer or backyard bird watcher who integrates architectural elements with the surroundings, smart growth proponents view natural landscapes and buildings as distinct elements that should remain apart.   Therefore, agricultural land that serves as Boulder’s greenbelt is not planted, and timber may not be cut in forested communities, even if it presents a fire hazard, as I explain in this post.

Issaquah Highlands presents a trail system, however, most is relegated to the greenbelts surrounding high density smart growth with no native trees. CLICK and then ZOOM to read text:

Smart Growth Proponents: Sometimes Opposed to Property Ownership

It is my observation that some proponents of smart growth are collectivists, and unable to conceive a scenario where one may live in harmony with nature, actually owning natural elements on their own large lot property (i.e. trees, wildlife, and stream frontage).  One example of this is the Lane County Oregon, where County Commissioners unsuccessfully tried to ban all private uses of  riverfront property, with a 200′ buffer zone (on each side!)  in Nov. 2010. Also see this article from smart growth proponents such as Dr. Richard Florida feel that homeownership is overrated and no longer desirable or necessary.

Clearly, in this era of urban sprawal and diminshing open space in urban areas, there is a “balance” between restrictions on treecutting, versus unsightly high density smart growth with no privacy and no native trees.

However, smart growth involves significant amounts of money for the development and maintenance of parks, bike trails, bike lanes, and other aspects of nature preserves.  The money is often provided with “impact fees,” where the developer pays for the parks, along with utilities.

However, these “impact fees” are ultimately passed along to the unsuspecting home buyer, renter, or retailer (in commercial developments).  University of Washington researchers demonstrated that impact fees raised new home prices from 166% to 358% of the amount of the fees.  Rents are very high in places with slow growth, including Boulder, Colorado and Flagstaff, Arizona.  Economist Theo Eicher of the University of Washington found that Impact Fees and other growth restrictions increased the price of a home in Seattle by $200,000.

In addition to alterations in supply and demand, impact fees are another contributor to the housing bubble, since they increase the cost of a home.  However, impact fees are a relatively new phenomenon.  Their increasingly widespread use should be questioned, given the foreclosure crisis.  Indeed, there are several solutions to these one time impact fees that hit the developer and homebuyer. Randal O’Toole explains how in Houston, they are paid back by the developer to the City over 30 years.

So instead of the dreaded impact fees, why not buy or make other permanent conservation arrangements for the land, and have volunteers build the trails?

Philanthropy – The Answer?

I hope so.  In relatively affuluent communities, such as Seattle, Denver-Boulder, and San Francisco, there is millions of dollars available in the pocketbooks of major corporations to purchase open space. Parks can help offset high density smart growth developments with high air pollution and negative human health effects.  Organizations such as the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust have preserved a discontiguous network of open space along I-90, from Seattle to Ellensburg.  That’s a total of 120 miles, reflecting the high levels of philathropy from Seattle entrepreneurs.  However, the land is not owned by the Trust.  I do

I’ve thrown out a lot of material in the sections above. However, one cannot underestimate the quest for experiencing nature from everyone, including the very rich who will donate monies to secure land for preservation, and the rest of us who will build trails.

Private Parks, Not Urban Growth Boundaries, Ensure Permanent Protection Immune from Smart Growth

While I do not know the Greenway’s position on “Smart growth,” I give them credit for placing lands in permanent reserves for several reasons:

1. Urban growth boundaries can be transient.  The PSRC may elect to extend an UGB, resulting in more ugly high density smart growth.  Arrangements with public agencies and private landowners are hopefully immune from this, due to non-negotiable legal arrangements.

2. One to five acre lots (i.e. large lot zoning) on lands outside the UGB do not contribute to human experiences in nature.  Reason: They are privately held, and a group of conservative landowners will not want a trail across their property for Liberal Mountain Bikers from the U District and Capitol Hill.

3. Furthermore, UGB’s are transient. They will eventually be expanded and bulldozed for more smart growth when populations increase.

4. Coordination of hiking and mountain bike trails can occur faster on private property, considering budget cutbacks.

5. Permanent parks in your backyard increase property values, since they are open to the public with trails.  In contrast, urban growth boundaries separate two areas of zoned property: residential from rural.  5 acre rural lots in your backyard are private, and do not give you a chance to run, bike, or fish.  And, the property owners are antagonistic, since rural conservative, Republican property owners don’t like trendy yuppies entering their land.

Is the Greenway acquiring Developable Lands below 1500′?

Well, of course.  However, the conservation arrangements are for private and public property, arranged by a private organization.

As shown by my annotated map of east-central King County, the burgundy areas are blocked to development by the Puget Sound Regional Council’s urban growth boundary.  These developable lands greatly exceed the Greenway’s land acquisition of 215,000.

Mountains to Sound Greenway, annotated map from Tom Lane. CLICK to enlarge to read text. From: https://smartgrowthusa.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/vision2040map.jpg Accessed: Jan. 16, 2011


Note that most of the public lands on this map along I-90 are too steep for homes, and many have been public for decades before the Greenway’s apparent beginnings in 1990.  For example, the Issaquah Alps (Cougar, Tiger, and Squak Mountains), along with Rattlesnake Mountain and Mount Si (and others), have been public parks for decades.  National forest lands in the vicinity of Snoqualmie Pass have existed

Therefore, if the greenway has only made arrangements to preserve 215,000 acres since 1990, that is much less than the several hundreds of thousands of acres that the Puget Sound Regional Council has placed off limits to development, as part of the PSRC’s Vision 2040. I have outlined some of these lands in East Central King County on the Greenway map below.  However, there are at least ten times this outlined area of buildable lands in the four county area controlled by the PSRC.

Overall, since the PSRC and its partners (i.e. Port Blakeley) wishes to demolish native trees by way of the environmentally cruel method of clearcutting, in favor of smart growth, then we can only hope for organizations such as the Greenway, and Bellevue’s tree ordinance, to preserve what little native trees are left below 1,500 feet elevation in the Puget Sound basin. (Elevations above 1,500′ may be too steep, with winter snows and rock outcrops, and very long commutes).

Other Examples of Philanthropy

For parks and open space, there are many promising alternatives, including user fees and philanthropy.  Below is a photo of a Donation Box at the new Bootleg Canyon Mountain Bike Park near Boulder City, Nevada (Las Vegas metro).  Other photos are annotated as noted.(Also see this cool animated link of the Southwest’s new premier mountain bike park.)

Boulder City, NV Bootleg Canyon Mountain Bike Park Donation Box.

Closer view of text of sign.

Shelter for people and bikes.

Surrounding Mojave Desert and distant casino near the Hoover Dam.

Bootleg Canyon Sign.

Philanthropy can also involve hiking and mountain biking trail building crews.  The International Mountain Biking Coalition (IMBA) sponsors trailbuilding seminars across the nation.  In Sedona, I ran into the Subaru IMBA Trail Care Crew from Colorado at the Visitors Center.  They were touring the nation teaching trailbuilding.  Click Here to follow their adventures on Twitter.  You will love their Subaru pictured below.

IMBA Trail Care crew in Sedona, Arizona; October, 2009.

(By the way, this sort of stuff keeps happening to me.  Last summer when driving to Albuquerque, I ran into two young women from Los Angeles Northeast of Espanola, New Mexico (literally in the middle of nowhere), bicycling across the country, and giving lectures on bicycling.  I guess people are following me, giving me subliminal messages that someday, my blogging obsession will turn into a new career tract in urban geography, and parks and recreation stewardship.)

I love these promotional signs on the web site of COTA (Central Oregon Trails Association), the IMBA chapter in Bend, Oregon:


The 2009 and 2010 signs for the COTA Biketoberfest trailbuilding work parties. For more information on COTA, the Central Oregon Trails Association, check out http://cotamtb.com. To find the local Internation Mountain Bike Association affiliated chapter in your area, check out: http://imba.com/near-you/clubs

The Town of Cave Creek, Arizona purchased (leases?) thousands of acres of Sonoran Desert from the State of Arizona land trust in partnership with the Desert Foothills Land Trust.  Some of this is associated with the Arizona Office of Smart Growth, however, the Town of Cave Creek voted to increase taxes due to citizen interest in preserving the desert.  And, ironically, and to show that environmentalists can also be Capitalists, Cave Creek residents also voted overwhelming to approve a new Superwallmart, near the north edge of Scottsdale.

The Arizona Office of Smart Growth purchased 400 acres for 3 million in December, 2008, to annex to the McDowell Mountains preserve in Scottsdale.  This is controversial due to the Arizona budget crisis. Since 2000 Arizona State Parks has adminstered the Growing Smarter State Trust Land Acquisition grant program, providing up to 50 percent of acquisition costs for eligible State Trust lands acquired at public auction.These grants purchase open space in urban areas with adjacent urban growth.

Here are some photos of Cave Creek, a low density area well north of Phoenix, and at a higher elevation with horse properties:

Looking north to the western unincorporated areas of Cave Creek.

Cave Creek area.

See rainbow, hard to see, left side of image.

Overlooking part of the Town of Cave Creek, from a permanent preserve.

Arizona owns much of the land around the Phoenix metro.  Wendell Cox explains that Arizona has sold these lands to developers at above the market value, in order to maximize state revenues.  Currently, No Tresspassing signs on state trust lands are everywhere at the periphery of the Phoenix metro.  Some of these lands will be developed, while others will become parks:

State Trust lands in Cave Creek. Could either become developed, or, preserved by the Town and monies from local citizens.

In addition, many City of Phoenix parks are undeveloped, and full of barbed wire and garbage.  I called the Parks office and they told me to use these parks at your own risk.  They are designated with this also very famous sign:

Undeveloped parkland, City of Phoenix.

Finally, returning to the Greenway, here’s a Blue Star designation at a rest area on I-90:

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Finally, does expensive smart growth and naturally preserved areas along the greenway really mix? I don’t think so. Here is Mount Si from the Snoqualmie Ridge golf course. Look at the price for a single family home in the second photo.

Mount Si from the Snoqualmie Ridge Smart Growth Development Golf Course. Do smart growth and nature preserves mix?

These smart growth prices are out of control at Snoqualmie Ridge: $500,000 to $800,000 + and a 30 mile commute, each way:

Snoqualmie Ridge smart growth homes from the mid-500’s to the mid-800’s.

This is Part 3 of a 3 Part Series on the Greenway –

Part 1 –

Part 1 – Click this blue text for entry. (Jan. 3, 2011) Seattle Smart Growth: Mountains to Sound Greenway (I-90) includes Smart Growth Within Existing Urban Growth Boundaries (UGB’s) – (Part 1) – Click Here

Part 2 –

Part 2 – Click this blue text for entry. (Jan. 4, 2010) Seattle Smart Growth: Photos of Expensive Smart Growth on Mountains to Sound Greenway: Snoqualmie Ridge, Issaquah Highlands, Talus, and Suncadia – (Part 2) – Click Here

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