Tools or chains? Clarion Group to save the planet with ‘zoning plus’

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This is a project of local builder and repair expert, Doug Dalrymple, in truck bed, who is making a roof repair on a house in Bay St. Louis, Miss.

By Nancy Patty

We are told that the 16-county plan centered on Chattanooga (Thrive 2055) will provide “tools” to promote responsible, strong communities and healthy life styles. What are the “tools” to which proponents are referring?

In my research on the Clarion Group, a land use management team hired to produce Hamilton County’s plan, I came across several articles written by some of the group’s  top people. One is written by Chris Duerksen, managing director of Clarion and a main speaker for workshops on sustainable development.

Duerksen wrote a book titled Saving the World Through Zoning – The Sustainable Community Development Code Comes to the Rescue. This subject is one I’d like to address.

Mr. Duerksen says we must act quickly to save the earth from global warming and health problems associated with obesity. What is his answer to these problems?  The most powerful and effective “tool” to shape and protect communities is zoning codes. According to the Clarion’s  managing director, zoning codes are not adequate to implement sustainable policies.

If you live in the suburbs in a single family  home, have a yard, drive a vehicle to work and shop, then you live in “sprawl.”  Mr. Duerksen says “sprawl”  is harming our planet and must change to allow for more population density and mixed use development. This would help shape new developments to live in harmony with nature. “While removing obstacles and creating incentives will be important,” he says, “no zoning code can succeed without MANDATORY REGULATIONS that require certain actions to prevent harm.” Later he goes on to say developers should be required to protect the solar access of each building when promoting taller, denser developments to support transit and limit “sprawl.”

Some states require developers to have 20 percent to 30 percent of the homes in a development oriented to take advantage of solar. If the developer does not meet the requirement they will be charged an “energy fee.”

Duerksen further suggests requiring developments to be “carbon neutral.” The concept is similar to the “no net loss” idea applied to wetlands. In this approach, the total amount of carbon emissions “projected” from a development (additional traffic, use of energy in producing building materials) must be offset — for example, by planting trees. How much additional cost would this add to a home? Who would determine the “projected” carbon emissions and how would they determine the amount? How many different people would a developer have to get to sign off on his project? The high cost of all the new regulations could put single families homes out of reach for the average citizens which seems to be the precise objective of Sustainable Development promoters.

If these are the “tools” the Clarion Group will provide with its plan, are we sure this is right for the people of Hamilton County and the other 15 counties. Several counties such as Polk are free of zoning and want no part of it. According to Clarion, regulations, zoning and restrictions are the “tools” necessary to implement its idea of a healthy, strong community.

Nowhere does Clarion suggest free market solutions in planning for growth. Does this omission represent the interests of the people in our region?

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