NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Hidden Agenda Behind "Smart Growth"

June 30, 2000

Environmentalists and a number of politicians prescribe "smart growth" to control "sprawl." Smart growth seems to embrace stopping suburban development, and many experts see it as an attack on private property rights. Recent events in Richland County, S.C., illustrate the dangers property owners face.

  • The county has adopted what it calls a "2020 Town and Country Vision" plan, targeting the fertile farms owned largely by black families descended from slaves and sharecroppers -- people who over the years scrapped up enough money to buy their tracts.
  • The plan -- adopted unanimously last year by the County Council -- directs growth toward proposed cluster "villages" by withholding roads and sewers and declaring almost all the county's prime farmland, mature forest land and land near water "preservation" areas that can't be developed.
  • Even farmers with no plans to develop their land will be hurt when they attempt to borrow money from a bank -- because the value of the land as collateral is reduced, since it can't be sold to developers.
  • Since the plan diminishes the land's value, the state American Civil Liberties Union and the local NAACP may sue the county on the grounds that its plan violates the Constitution's Fifth Amendment -- which says governments cannot take land for public use without just compensation.

Gerald Finkel, the attorney who prevailed in the landmark 1992 U.S. Supreme Court case Lucas vs. South Carolina -- which ruled that blocking development could be a "taking" in some cases -- has become involved in the Richland dispute. He says that if you "want to preserve greenspace, you have to do it the old-fashioned way -- you buy it."

Source: John Berlau, "'Smart Growth' Is More Than Slogan; It's a Threat to Landowners' Rights," Investor's Business Daily, June 30, 2000.


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