Part V: Smart growth for Ohio

A framework for a smart growth program

What kind of Smart Growth program would fit Ohio? What needs would it fulfill or benefits would it provide? What would its chief components be? Clearly, there are conditions, unique characteristics, and political traditions in the state that any type of reform effort will have to address, including:

Modest state growth pressure. Even though the state is growing, the growth pressures are not intense. Of all of the municipalities in the state that have experienced growth, only one, the City of Hudson in Summit County, has adopted a formal growth management program, fiercely opposed by home building and development interests.82 Moreover, in contrast to states like Washington and Oregon, Ohio has not developed the same degree of heightened and well-organized political awareness of the need to protect and conserve natural resources.

Priority on economic development. For the past several decades, the priority of the state has clearly been economic development. In its staffing and outreach to local governments, for example, the Department of Development has stressed training in community and economic development and application of the state's various economic development statutes and programs. There is little emphasis on formal local comprehensive planning and limited technical assistance, save for the use of the land capability analysis mapping programs in the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Still, as the discussion of state programs above shows, the state is clearly affecting development through numerous venues.

Farmland preservation as a bellwether issue. The creation of the office of farmland preservation may be a bellwether of a shift in attitude in the state. The analysis above underscores that farmland loss is real. A report on the state of Ohio's environment by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, citing an ODNR assessment of trends facing the state by the year 2010, confirms this. "As urbanization continues," it states, "more agricultural land will be removed from production and converted to residential areas. Conversion of farmland from agricultural to residential use is most likely in metropolitan counties. Prime farmland, once converted to urban use, will never again be available for agriculture."83

No formal integration of strategies across agencies. In reviewing the types of programs and plans that the state either administers or adopts, it is striking that the state of Ohio's approach has been to stress vertical functional responsibilities by state departments or commissions with minimal formal horizontal integration among agency efforts or some type of unifying vision for the state. Not surprisingly, each state agency "sticks to its knitting" (the office of farmland preservation's charge to devise a farmland protection plan is a new wrinkle for Ohio). For example, the Access Ohio transportation plan, discussed above, offers scant treatment of land-use or environmental issues and none on farmland loss, although it does mention economic development. The 1997 report from OEPA containing recommendations on reducing environmental risk in Ohio doesn't discuss the impact of its recommendations on affordable housing and economic development; it does, however, question the appropriateness of continuing to try to solve problems of traffic congestion by continuing to build highways, preferring the formulation of an environmentally sustainable transportation system. It also acknowledges the "high implementation difficulty" in ODOT's changing its approachsubstituting traffic management techniques and technologies, with a smaller net environmental impactbecause of "bureaucratic inertia and deeply entrenched economic and political interests."84

Home rule. A further political tradition, of course, is home rule for municipalities (counties and townships do not have home rule powers). An original intent of home rule was to confer on municipalities the ability to govern and organize themselves as they saw fit without having to continually return to the state legislature with hat-in-hand requests for specific and minuscule authorizations. This was particularly important at the turn of the century when the home rule amendment to the Ohio constitution was enacted and when the legislature was dominated by less sympathetic rural, rather than urban, interests.85

To some degree, that purposeto provide flexibility to cities and villages in self-governance and to allow municipalities to perform their own internal housekeeping without state involvement or permissionhas taken a back seat to a prevalent "don't tread on me" attitude when it comes to formulating new programs that would require cooperative action among counties, townships, and municipalities along with the state itself. Even for such a simple matter as the enforcement of the uniform statewide building code that is based on a national modelcertainly a sensible ideahome rule can mean that any municipality can supersede such a uniform code by enacting stiffer requirements for its jurisdiction than would apply to building construction in unincorporated areas, so that there could conceivably be one building code for areas outside municipal corporations and multiple building codes for Ohio's cities and villages.86

No strong organizational infrastructure. The kinds of statewide planning and land-use control programs that Oregon, Washington, and Rhode Island have enacted, which involve the state in reviewing and certifying local plans and generally scrutinizing local development decisions, would run afoul of the political tradition of municipal home rule. Counties and townships, which do not have constitutional home rule authority, might see such programs simply as state interference with the operation of local self-government. As a practical matter, Ohio has no strong organizational infrastructure that would permit the administration of such programs. Furthermore, it is highly unlikely to create one.

Criteria for a Smart Growth Agenda

Given these considerations, a Smart Growth Agenda for Ohio would involve a program or statutes that meet the following criteria. The actions in the agenda must together:

  • not dramatically expand existing state agencies;
  • provide for integration among state programs with respect to their effects on development, redevelopment, and resource conservation;
  • create or support a continuing constituency for cooperative planning efforts; and
  • be primarily incentive-based, rather than regulatory.

Contents of a Smart Growth Agenda

Given these criteria, a Smart Growth agenda for Ohio would have at least the following three components:

(1) The creation of a high-level planning organization in state government to coodinate between state departments and promote sound planning at all levels. Currently, there is no single entity that can realistically fulfill that function. The existing line departments have the drawback of having functional missions that could overwhelm or derail any long-range policy development responsibility. While the ODOD certainly has ample authority, its orientation is still economic development. By contrast, ODNR and OEPA deal primarily with conservation, recreation, and regulatory issues, but do not have clear statutory authority.

There are at least two approaches that can be used: a state planning commission or a cabinet coordinating committee that works directly for the governor.87

A state planning commission is an independent body that develops state goals, plans, and broad-based support for planning, and advises the governor, state agencies, and the legislature. It may be composed of members of the governor's cabinet, representatives from various governmental organizations (like the state municipal league, township trustees associations, and county commissioners groups), and lay citizens. Sometimes specific nongovernmental organizations, like those for environmentalists and home builders, are also represented.

The concept of a state planning commission, an appointed advisory body responsible for all state planning, dates back to the 1930s, when many states established them in response to the federal-level National Planning Board which urged governors to create and staff such boards.88 The early planning boards, in states like Maryland and Pennsylvania, focused on rural and resource-related problems, reflecting state planning's conservation lineage.

A number of states still have state planning commissions, as discussed above. Maryland, for example, recast its state planning commission in 1992 as the "Economic Growth, Resource Protection, and Planning Commission," and gave it a number of new duties, including the preparation of an annual report to the governor and general assembly on the achievement of state planning goals.89 New Jersey's State Planning Commission is responsible for overseeing the preparation of the state development and redevelopment plan.90 Oregon's Land Conservation and Development Commission oversees the state-mandated local land-use planning program, adopts statewide planning goals, and reviews local comprehensive plans for compliance with those goals.91

Where a state (like Ohio) does not have a strong tradition of statewide planning and requires an independent body to initiate and gain support for a new program, a state planning commission is a helpful mechanism. Moreover, because the commission will continue through different administrations, it can establish a presence and continuity for planning in the state. The disadvantage, of course, is that if a governor decides to ignore the state planning commission or if the state planning commission's advice isn't particularly useful (or is threatening) to the governor, the commission will rapidly become a vestigial organ of state government.

A cabinet coordinating committee pulls together key departments whose activities have an impact on planning and land use, enabling a governor to speak with a single voice on critical growth, development, and conservation issues in the state. A secondary purpose of the committee is to resolve disputes among state departments on the siting of state and regional public facilities.

Under the Delaware state planning act, for example, the governor has created such a council, composed of departments of transportation, agriculture, economic development, budget, natural resources, and environmental control in a cabinet committee on state planning issues.92 It has a small staff that aids it in its work.

A major disadvantage of such a committee is the omission of the general public and specific interest groups from the state planning process. In addition, the legislature, which would presumably have a say in who is appointed to the state planning commission described above, would have virtually no input as to who sits on the cabinet coordinating committee. Another disadvantage is that a committee would probably keep a great deal of the functional focus of the individual departments that had representation on the committee and would therefore be less likely to spend time developing broad-based support from the public.

Both a state planning commission and cabinet coordinating committee would require new legislation (while it is possible that a cabinet coordinating committee could be established through an executive order, this is less permanent and therefore less desirable).93 The ODOD or the office of the governor could provide staff support for either body.94 Alternatively, in the case of the state planning commission, it could have its own small staff.

(2) The drafting of a cross-cutting development, redevelopment, and resource conservation goals document for the state. 95 As noted above, it is what is now missing for the state. Such a document would provide goals and policies that will articulate a unifying vision for Ohioa statement of what the state wishes to become in the next 20 years. The goals document is intended to be a direction-setting device, developed out of broad citizen participation,96 rather than a form of regulation or state mandate.

Such a document is intended to coordinate policy among all levels of government in such areas as economic development, land use, transportation, health, education, public safety, telecommunications, water resources, and intergovernmental relations. Here, the purpose is to infuse plans and actions of various governmental units and levels with policies that are consistent with those the state desires, with the hope that the state's goals would be, in part, implemented through local action. The goals document can be used, for example, to direct state capital budgeting and location decisions, modify administrative rules, and evaluate or initiate new legislative proposals (e.g., such as funding a dedicated source for public transit in Ohio or for state programs to acquire open space or development rights for agricultural land).

The document would be developed either by a new state planning commission or cabinet coordinating committee and then formally adopted, presumably by action of the governor and General Assembly.

As noted above, a number of states have documents like this in various forms: Rhode Island with its State Guide Plan , New Jersey with its State Development and Redevelopment Plan , Oregon with the 19 state goals and implementing guidelines developed by the Land Conservation and Development Commission, and Maryland with its seven "visions" (among them the protection and enhancement of the Chesapeake Bay).97

The advantage of such a document is that it could build consensus about where the state is going and whether the individual approaches state agencies as well as other governmental units are taking will get the state there. The disadvantage is the propensity for such a document to become a mind-numbing abstraction or weighed down with specific conditions or reservations that make the achievement of its direction unlikely. On the other hand, it could be so detailedlike an administrative rulethat it would threaten potential users and supporters.

To avoid such detail, this working paper strongly discourages the development of a map as part of the goals document (in contrast, for example, to New Jersey's state development and redevelopment plan) that would describe the effect of the document's strategies on different areas of Ohio. A state goals document containing a map is most difficult to achieve, particularly in a large state with major urban concentrations, because of the amount of information that must be collected, the many actors involved, the individualized determinations on delineation of the state's policies to specific areas, and the sometimes threatening perceptions of line drawing that specifies areas for different purposes, scales of development or direction of growth.

What kind of goals could conceivably be incorporated? The state has in fact begun the process by recognizing the importance of the protection of farmland. That is one prong of a strategy dealing with resource conservation, an approach that would also address other environmentally sensitive areas. But as contemplated here the goals document would also extend to state policies on developed areas in order to ensure state reinvestment in mature communities, commitment of state funds for adequate maintenance of existing infrastructure, initiation of new programs, and an evaluation of state agency practices that affect developed, as opposed to developing or undeveloped, areas. Solely emphasizing farmland may result in viewing development patterns from the outside in, rather from the inside out. State policy-making and agency practices need the benefits of both perspectives.

(3) Development of an incentive-based state investment program that targets state growth-related expenditures to locally designated compact growth areas. Clearly, the state's physical structure has been changing dramatically over the past three decades, as the analysis above demonstrates. Urbanized areas are spreading out, with higher consumption of land by residences and commercial and industrial uses. Farmlands are being lost to development. According to OEPA, this development pattern also poses "significant environmental degradation" to wetlands.98

The question is how to respond to these changes in a manner that "fits" the state. This working paper advocates using the Maryland Smart Growth initiative as a foundation for development of a statute that would use the state's power to spend on growth-related projects (e.g., highways, sewer and water construction assistance, economic development assistance, and state leases or construction of new office or educational facilities).99 Maryland's statute establishes a process that targets expenditures to areas that counties designate for compact urban growth. Encouraging development in these areas will result both in less land consumption and in the establishment of a pattern of development that is supported by urban services, such as centralized water and sewer. If Ohio were to employ this approach, it would need to identify those existing state programs that it considers to be growth related.100 If it added incentive programs, such as monies for infrastructure, land or development rights acquisition, public transit, or affordable housing, the amounts should be sufficient to cause changes in behavior by local governments as well as the private sector.101

The Maryland statute predesignates certain areas of the state that form the traditional core of urban development there. This includes, for example, all municipalities, including the City of Baltimore, areas inside the Baltimore and Washington beltways, and enterprise zones. A similar statute for Ohio could predesignate the state's central cities and other core municipalities as well as certain existing enterprise zones.

The Maryland legislation, as noted, authorizes counties to designate additional "priority funding areas" that meet minimum criteria contained in the statute. Priority funding areas designated by counties must be based on the capacity of land areas for development and the amount of land area that will be necessary to satisfy demand for development.102 Once this analysis is completed, counties may then designate areas as priority funding areas if they meet specified requirements for type of land use (e.g., industrial), water and sewer services, and residential density.103

A statute for Ohio would need to define similar criteria in order to target expenditures. These criteria would be based on an analysis of characteristics of desirable development patterns in the state and would incorporate the state goals. The statute could also provide for multi-county designations of compact growth areas, deriving from the same philosophy that supports multi-county solid waste districts in Ohio.

Such a statute would need to provide procedural options that a county could use in reaching agreement on which areas to designate. For example, a special committee, appointed by the board of county commissioners, could be established. Alternately, an existing county or regional planning commission or council of governments could be the organization charged with identifying and recommending candidates for designation to the county commissioners. If such an organization was not charged with overseeing the designation process, then it could instead provide technical assistance to local governments within the county in meeting the requirements of the act. Some state funding to help support the initial designation process may also be desirable.

Finally, a state department should be placed in charge of the program. In Maryland that department is the long-established and well-respected state office of planning. Such an agency would need to have staff capacity to provide technical assistance to local governments, including regional planning agencies, and the ability to coordinate with other state agencies, in particular by providing other state agencies with precise maps of designated priority funding areas based on criteria in the legislation. A review process would need to be established within state government to ensure that state funding, including state funding that is used to match federal and other monies, for projects was consistent with the statute. To that end, the governor may need to issue executive orders to more fully implement the lawto give state departments a prodding .104 An annual reporting system would of course be necessary to advise the governor, the legislature, and the public on how well the new program is working.

The advantage of this approach, of course, is that it is voluntary. Under the Maryland program, nothing obligates a county to designate such areas, nor does the program restrict use of county or other local government funds and private-sector development. As a Maryland publication points out, county-designated priority funding areas "are simply areas the county wants to be eligible for State funded projects," in part "to make these areas more attractive for residents and potential residents, as well as for private sector development and redevelopment."105 The disadvantage is that it may limit state agency action; state agencies would see it as an incursion on their discretionary decision-making power and attempt to devise ways to circumvent it (e.g., characterizing a capacity improvement to a road as being essential to protect public safety, as opposed to permitting additional growth). It may also be viewed by local governments as attaching too many strings to state monies. Alternately, the incentives may be insufficient to attract counties and the local governments within them to participate.


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Smart Growth Working Paper
Part I: Historical background
Part II: Overview of trends
Part III: State agencies' policies
Part IV: Land-use planning models
Part V: Smart growth for Ohio
Next steps

Back to main Smart Growth Agenda


Ohio's unique character

  • Modest state growth pressure.
  • Priority on economic development.
  • Farmland preservation as a bellwether issue.
  • No formal integration of strategies across state agencies.
  • Home rule tradition.
  • No strong organizational infrastructure for state planning.


"...a patchwork of weak law"

The state's provisions for planning and land-use control are a patchwork of weak law, fragmented code, and a plethora of court cases. Local day-to-day land-use activity appears to center on individual zoning and subdivision approvals with little attention to how those discreet actions compose the "big picture."
We also see an outdated Ohio Constitution, no state policy on land planning, no single state agency that oversees land planning and related issues, and many public and private interests that derive continuous short-term benefits from fragmentation, duplication and waste. Ohio lacks direction on growth, and the political will to substantively change inefficient systems. This may exacerbate the decline of towns and urban centers, the degradation of natural systems, and the conversion of farmland. It may also exacerbate traffic congestion and other transportation problems, the costly remediation of growth-related problems, and generally unsustainable growth. One can say Ohio is thus at a long-term economic and social disadvantage.
James Duane, executive director of the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments

We are strongly supportive of this and any other effort that might some day bring improvements to Ohio's growth policy...[A] Smart Growth approach is the only thing to try, knowing full well that it will take considerable statewide effort and strong gubernatorial leadership to implement it.
William Habig, executive director of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission



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