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LIMITING SUBURBAN BUILDING CAN HAVE A NEGATIVE EFFECT

In reference to the article titled "Extreme Makeover" that appeared in the April 10 editions of The Buffalo News, reporter Tom Precious lists six solutions that should be pursued to help turn around the Buffalo Niagara region. Incredibly, he lists "promote regionalism by controlling suburban sprawl" as one of the six solutions.

Suburban sprawl occurs when development takes place in areas where the infrastructure does not exist to support it. That simply is not happening in Western New York. Residential development is occurring where sewer and water lines and existing public access roads are already in place, waiting to be utilized.

Some people who criticize suburban sprawl are trying to promote a policy that forces development back into the City of Buffalo. This kind of government intervention has historically resulted in unintended negative consequences.

For example, the article cites the growth boundaries implemented in Portland, Ore., as a success. To help revitalize a dying urban core, Portland forced development to occur within a designated geographic area with its growth boundary. The unintended negative consequence is that Portland is now among the most expensive housing markets in the country, forcing many middle-class families out.

A strong and vibrant City of Buffalo is critical to the future of our region. However, choking off residential development in the suburbs only weakens suburban communities in an attempt to strengthen the urban center.

Government doesn't have to "force growth" in Buffalo; market forces are already doing this. Downtown Buffalo is enjoying a housing renaissance, with several successful projects recently completed and more in the pipeline. A recent study indicates demand for 375 apartments, townhouses and condos in the city on an annual basis.

Developers are reacting to that demand. This does not mean that all home buyers want to live in the city. There are many issues that affect home-buyer decisions on where to reside. We cannot force people to move into urban living if it does not appeal to them.

Government should focus on removing obstacles to development in urban centers rather than creating artificial growth boundaries that drive up housing costs. We should stop portraying residential developers as culprits when, in fact, our industry is one of the few in Western New York that is thriving, employing thousands of people at good wages and generating tens of millions of dollars in spin-off economic activity.

At a time when county and local governments are cash-strapped, the last thing we should consider is a policy that will reduce or eliminate growth in the property tax base anywhere in Western New York.

Let's keep our eye on the ball, focus on the real problems that threaten our region and work together to solve them. Waging a war on the mythical "suburban sprawl" is a waste of our time and resources. Every new road is not a sign of sprawl, especially in Western New York.

Patrick A. Marrano is president of Marrano/Marc Equity Corp.