Realtors Poll Suggests Voters Prefer Local Growth Control

As Arizona Gov. Jane Dee Hull and Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening prepared to host a governors policy workshop on statewide anti-sprawl strategies in Phoenix at the end of last week, a new poll indicated a majority of voters may oppose greater state involvement in growth management decisions.

The survey, released Wednesday (4/25), focuses on measuring levels of support for open space protections while gauging voters' attitudes on a variety of growth policies.

"Voters believe local decision making should be done at a local level," said spokesman Steve Cook of the National Association of Realtors ( NAR ), which commissioned the telephone survey of 1,000 registered voters conducted March 12-14.

Fifty-four percent of those polled said they believed problems like traffic congestion and encroachment upon undeveloped open space required more growth control than currently exists.

But when told that growth decisions have traditionally been handled by local governments and that some people favored increased state involvement in the process, 57 percent of survey participants said they disagreed that state governments should get more involved in managing growth.

Nine states Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin -- have passed statewide growth management legislation since 1997, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. This session, lawmakers in at least 31 states introduced bills designed to channel new development and mitigate its impacts.

Deron Lovaas of the national Sierra Club's anti-sprawl campaign pointed to strikingly different results from a survey released last fall by Smart Growth America (SGA), a coalition of environmental, conservation and historic preservation groups.

Sixty-two percent of the 1,000 adults polled during SGA's September 7-10 telephone survey expressed "some" or a "great deal" of confidence in state governments' ability "to make the best decisions on land use issues affecting your area." That compared favorably with confidence placed in neighborhood associations and civic groups (67 percent), municipal and county governments (61 percent each), the federal government (46 percent) and private developers (35 percent).

"We would definitely like to see states step in a little bit more. State and regional solutions have a better chance of dealing with sprawl," Lovaas said.

"Realtors definitely want growth management to stay in the hands of local government because that's where they've had the greatest political influence," said Joel Hirschhorn of the National Governors' Association's Center for Best Practices.

Independent pollster Andrew Kohut downplayed the divergent NAR and SGA results on the state question as "a battle of adversarial polling." Kohut's organization, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press is funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, which also funds Stateline.org

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