RALEIGH – Johnston County leaders would set up a system of “economic segregation,” if they adopt new recommendations from their Growth Management Committee. That’s the assessment of a new John Locke Foundation Regional Brief.
“The proposed regulations would force the construction of expensive homes on large lots in rural parts of the county, while crowding densely packed small homes in cities for lower- and middle-income families,” said Michael Sanera, JLF Research Director and Local Government Analyst.
Johnston County’s Growth Management Committee is pushing the plan. The group wants to limit most homebuilding in rural areas to an average of one home for every two acres. The regulations would also encourage “higher density housing” in municipalities, Sanera said. The Johnston County Planning Board will take public comment on the recommendations Tuesday night and again Jan. 30.
“The recommendations are based on the ‘smart growth’ philosophy, but they ignore housing market realities by disregarding people’s desires,” Sanera said. “A recent poll reminds us that 82 percent of Americans want to live in a single-family suburban home.”
None of the proposed “smart growth” plans matches those basic desires, Sanera said. All would reduce the possible development of a 100-acre rural tract from 150 homes to no more than 50. “The report fails to calculate the economic impact of this change,” he said. “These changes would make Johnston County housing more scarce. Prices will increase for new and existing homes.”
That means larger, more expensive new homes in rural areas and higher tax bills for all property owners, once the next countywide revaluation reflects increased housing scarcity, Sanera said. “Advocates believe the development community will absorb the increased costs linked to the rules, but many homebuilders will simply move to neighboring counties to build homes where they can satisfy demand from low- and middle-income homebuyers.”
The growth management recommendations are based on flawed assessments of growth, Sanera said. “There’s an unexamined assumption that growth is outpacing Johnston County’s ability to provide services such as schools, roads, water and sewer, and recreation areas,” he said. “But the numbers don’t match the assumption.
“Inflation-adjusted county revenues increased 7 percent per person from 2001 to 2006, even with a population increase of 23,000 people,” he added. “If the growth management group believes increased revenues are needed, perhaps it should take a different approach. Seek a countywide tax increase, or look for spending cuts that can shift money to higher-priority projects.”
Sanera recommends a different approach to growth. “When the growth management committee argues that there’s not enough money to build schools in a growing county, the real issue is how does the county meet its responsibilities to improve education,” he said. “Why not consider schools within schools, new storefront schools, open enrollment options, more charter schools, or public-private options?
“The proposals on the table simply ignore basic economics and cave in to political pressure to limit growth,” Sanera added. “Johnston County families would get fewer, more expensive options and no real benefits. If the county adopts these recommendations, it will be official government policy to create economic segregation.”
Michael Sanera’s Regional Brief, “Johnston County’s ‘Dumb Growth’ Plan: The Growth Management Committee Fails to Understand Basic Economics,” is available at the JLF web site. For more information, please contact Sanera at (919) 828-3876 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To arrange an interview, contact Mitch Kokai at (919) 306-8736 or email@example.com.