Susan Ballard's recent Another Voice column, "We have sprawl, all right -- a sprawl of decline," demands a response from the League of Women Voters of Buffalo Niagara. In it, she misinterprets the intention of our publication, "At Taxpayers' Expense: How Government Policies Encourage Sprawl in Erie and Niagara Counties."
The report does not blame population loss on sprawl, as she implies. It defines sprawl as uncontrolled, low-density suburban development that spreads rapidly on the fringes of existing communities, consuming agricultural and environmentally sensitive lands. Housing, shopping, schools, services and employment are often separated, leading to greater dependence on cars.
It observes that, while the population of Erie and Niagara counties has been decreasing ever since 1970, the amount of developed land has increased by 72 percent during that time, and much of that development fits our definition of sprawl.
The purpose of the report is to show how sprawl, which is promoted by government policies, generates increased expenses for taxpayers. The report does not attack builders, who are simply earning a living. It proposes that changes in policies could save lots of money by encouraging builders to build more compactly in areas where infrastructure already exists.
The report does not oppose growth. It urges that growth should be planned and managed by local governments and that regional planning is imperative.
Ballard states that the League is comfortable with growth only in Buffalo, another misconception. Many areas in our two counties, in and near population centers, have existing infrastructure. There, growth makes sense.
She states that "there has been little or no growth here for decades." The problem is that, while there has been no population growth, there has been land-use growth that has often been unplanned and located in environmentally sensitive areas. This growth has necessitated new roads, water lines, sewer lines, schools and emergency services. This is the type of growth that is costly to taxpayers.
By controlling sprawl, managing growth and developing effective regional planning, this area can curb rising taxes and improve the quality of life. It can become a more attractive location for new businesses, and contribute to the economic revival that, everyone agrees, is needed in Erie and Niagara counties.
The League is grateful to Ballard for participating in the forum that introduced our report. We believe it is possible for builders, governments and community organizations to work together to improve our area. We all want to revitalize our economy, stem our population loss and make Western New York an outstanding place in which to work and live.
Anne Huberman is co-chairwoman of the Local Government Committee of the League of Women Voters of Buffalo Niagara. The report can be seen at www.lwvbn.org/sprawl/AtTaxpayersExpense.pdf.