At 25, State Growth Management Act is Primed for Modification

Matt Rosenberg has a a couple of good articles in The Lens addressing possible changes in the state’s 25-year-old Growth Management Act. We wrote about the issue here and here

Rosenberg’s first piece, Growth Management Act May Get a Refresh, includes interviews with a bipartisan group of key legislators, including State Sen. Dean Takko, State Rep. David Taylor, and State Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, From the interviews and other sources he summarizes:

The Act has come under increasing scrutiny in the last year. According to critics in government, the private sector and academia, the GMA:

He continues, 

In its 2016 Interim Plans, the House Office of Program Research states (pp. 67-68), “An objective review of the GMA will be conducted” to see where and how GMA is “not functioning well after 25 years and significant population growth.” The probe will include “a review of school siting issues and other local land use issues.”

Work sessions will be held in Olympia on September 20, October 18 and another date to be determined. The ultimate aim is to develop “draft legislative proposals for the 2017 session” and consider feedback.

Following up on the theme this week, Rosenberg writes that The Lens continues to hear from legislators and others suggesting changes to the GMA. And he links to the Washington Research Council report that we cited last month

The WRC recommendations include:

  • “Allow counties to trade unbuildable acres” in Urban Growth Areas (UGAs) for “truly buildable lands…outside UGAs.”
  • Let cities grow the dimensions of their UGAs if in exchange they finance and develop “high value habitat sites to be enhanced for increased biological productivity.”
  • Permit construction or infrastructure projects outside UGAs “in rural, economically depressed areas where demonstrable gains in affordable housing or job creation can be achieved.”
  • Let new schools be sited outside UGAs if it is too costly to build them inside UGAs, or travel times for students would be too great, or both.
  • “Grant 50-year zoning to developers on certain designated lands close to light rail lines to encourage high-density mixed development, where such a pattern…is not occurring now.”

 The WRC suggestions have garnered some support among legislators, he reports. This is an issue to watch, with implications in all parts of the state. 

A somewhat related Brookings Institution report examines how land use regulations are  zoning out low-income families. This surprised us.

The number of court cases mentioning “land use” (an innovative measure of regulation used in a Hutchins Center working paper by Peter Ganong and Daniel Shoag) has risen steadily:

How land use regulations are zoning out low income families   Brookings Institution

It’s not a perfect parallel with GMA, a particularly strong piece of land use regulation. The authors focus more on NIMBYism than the attempt to contain growth and sprawl that inspired the GMA. But it does underscore the often unintended consequences of regulation, particularly at times of rapid economic change and in-migration. An interesting insight:

Zoning also exacerbates inequality. As Jason Furman, chairman of the CEA puts it:

“While land use regulations sometimes serve reasonable and legitimate purposes, they can also give extra-normal returns to entrenched interests at the expense of everyone else…Zoning regulations and other local barriers to housing development [can] allow a small number of individuals to capture the economic benefits of living in a community, thus limiting diversity and mobility.”

The GMA review contemplated by lawmakers is timely. And it’s good to see that it’s being undertaken thoughtfully and with a solid research foundation.