Much has been written and said lately on the topic of "suburban sprawl," the term used by anti-growth groups to create the perception that commercial and residential growth in Western New York suburbs is out of control.
I hesitate to use the term at all because I do not want to contribute to legitimizing it. "Suburban sprawl" is the big lie that continues to be repeated by its proponents until it is seen as the truth. Blindly accepting the notion of "suburban sprawl" without knowing all the facts is dangerous. We cannot properly chart a course for this region's economic future if we fail to understand the real problems we face.
Compare the Western New York economy to a sick patient. You cannot properly treat an illness if you make an incorrect diagnosis.
The patient we know as Buffalo and Western New York is ill, all right. The illness, however, is not residential and commercial development, but rather state and local governments that have overtaxed and overregulated jobs and people out of our community.
Residential growth in Buffalo's suburbs is hardly out of control. In 1996, only approximately 720 new, single-family homes were closed in Erie County, nearly 10 percent of them in the City of Buffalo.
Building permits for new residential construction in Erie County are down 25 percent for the first eight months of 1997, and the projected 1,217 building permits for the entire year will be the lowest number in more than a decade.
Let's put this number in perspective. In Charlotte, N.C., for example, there were 3,183 building permits issued during just the first three months of 1997.
Obviously, there is no residential construction boom in Western New York.
Proponents of the "suburban sprawl" theory take the falsehood that we are building too many new homes in the suburbs and cite it as the reason for falling property values. Again, let's examine the facts.
In 1996, there were 7,347 existing homes sold in Erie County, compared with approximately 720 new, single-family home closings. In other words, fewer than 10 percent of all single-family home sales in Erie County were new construction.
The real cause of falling property values is simple supply and demand. New job formation in Western New York is nonexistent. According to the state Department of Labor, this community has lost nearly 12,000 manufacturing jobs in the past 10 years. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Buffalo and Erie County continue to lose population, with a loss of nearly 47,000 from 1980 to 1990.
We are not creating new jobs, and as a result, people are leaving the area. When people leave the area, the number of existing homes on the market increases. There is a larger supply of homes on the market in the face of declining demand. That results in lower property values.
To suggest that 720 new-built homes in a market of over 7,000 real-estate transactions is the cause of declining property values is ridiculous.
Finally, some proponents of the "suburban sprawl" theory offer as a solution to this manufactured crisis a large, controlling bureaucracy that would have powers over land use, development and planning. The heart of one proposal is the establishment of a formula to limit commercial development outside the City of Buffalo to a percentage that is less than the development activity that occurs in the City of Buffalo.
In other words, commercial development in suburban towns would be held hostage to the success or failure of the City of Buffalo to generate commercial development.
It seems to me that in a local economy that continues to experience the loss of good-paying jobs, we ought to encourage an industry that creates jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 1996 the Erie County new-home construction industry provided 2,781 good-paying jobs that generated nearly $61 million in wages.
We have to ask ourselves why other Northeast cities like Boston and Pittsburgh are experiencing economic growth while we continue to lose jobs. The answer is taxes and overregulation.
And lower taxes will help to improve our quality of life by reducing the cost to live in our community.
The national headquarters for the Bill Clinton presidential campaign in 1992 featured a sign that read: "It's the economy, Stupid!" The purpose of that sign was to keep the Clinton campaign focused on the real issue at hand, and to prevent that campaign from becoming distracted by side issues that would have no positive effect on the outcome. In Buffalo and Western New York, "It's taxes and regulation, Stupid!"
Unless we remain focused on the real problems facing our community, we will have no chance for victory.
PATRICK A. MARRANO is president of Marrano/Marc Equity Corp. of West Seneca.