Wednesday, June 25, 2008
One of the dilemmas of infill –- allowing new construction in an already developed area –- is that it often upsets the expectations of landowners and residents concerning the land use and density of the community. Whether it is allowing stores in an area that has been exclusively residential, or allowing larger houses in a neighborhood of one-story ranch houses, infill often faces strong local opposition, or at least local skepticism. And political scientists tell us that legal efforts often fail if they offer, on one hand, broad but thin public benefits (as some infill does, by counteracting sprawl) and, on the other hand, narrow but concentrated costs upon citizens (such as those owners whose expectations may be upset) who fill tooth and nail against the plan.
Infill may seem especially jarring in the cities in the nation’s interior, where sprawl has seemed especially natural, considering the open spaces and relatively low land prices. I still remember my surprise when, as young lawyer on one of my first cases, I visited Casper, Wyoming, and saw the pattern of central city neglect and suburban sprawl replicated even in a small city on a Western plain. Today, even such interior cities are tackling the issue of infill, both because of market pressure for more central development and policies encouraging it.
Tulsa, Oklahoma, is currently undergoing such a debate. In the face of a variety of infill plans, the city has proposed authorizing some “neighborhood conservation districts,” which would give some power to neighborhoods to regulate their land use. Some see this as a means of controlling unwanted infill; others see it as an odious regulation of private property. Whither infill in Tulsa? Not surprisingly, the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission stated last week that it is in no rush to change its policies with regard to infill. Stay tuned …
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