And Why They Shouldn’t Be.
In the hundreds of municipal zoning meetings I’ve attended in my career, the same three objections to new growth and development have been made at each one: traffic congestion, storm water runoff, and school capacity. These concerns are typically unfounded. Let me tell you why.
Ever since automobiles became a part of daily life, traffic jams have earned a rank of disdain right up there with death and taxes. They are the unavoidable companions of an economically thriving community. As regions flourish, however, tax dollars brought in from new developmentsfunnel funds towards road projects where they are most needed. There are also innovative solutions that help alleviate traffic congestion, such as traffic light optimization which harnessessmart programming and digital technology to manage traffic light operations in a coordinated manner, responding to real-time traffic demands, road capacity can be optimized efficiently. Roundabouts are great at managing traffic issues and have been used more and more in new communities. In addition, they are designed to reduce the likelihood of head-on and high-speed right-angle collisions by directing traffic in one continuous flow which minimizes stop-and-go situations, reducing the delay for drivers.
By now, we’re all familiar with V2I (Vehicle to Infrastructure) which connects video cameras and satellite imaging to provide drivers with real-time updates on accidents and weather-related alerts while on the road. Armed with this information, drivers can opt to reroute and avoid congested roads, contributing to smoother traffic flow. The alternative to new developments, and the traffic and tax funds they bring, is a dying economy evolving into a bleak future. Objectors need to ask themselves which future they want for their community: prosperity or stagnation.
Storm Water Management
Contrary to the understanding of many, development does not lead to increased stormwater runoff. Municipal codes mandate that pre-construction runoff levels at a build site cannot surpass those of post-construction runoff at the build site. Ironically, it’s often observed that post-development runoff management on a site improves stormwater drainage for downstream properties, thanks to the meticulous engineering work that goes into designing a site before any development can commence. Innovative strategies such as bioswales are employed to capture stormwater runoff, allowing it to percolate into the ground while filtering out pollutants. These are complemented by detention ponds which temporarily house stormwater runoff, releasing it slowly until fully drained. Furthermore, retention ponds can double as part of stormwater management systems to collect and hold runoff and be landscaped to mimic natural lakes that may be suitable for recreational purposes and can provide habitat for a wide variety of wildlife.
Development introduces new individuals, families, and children into our communities, which can often be perceived as a strain on local public schools already facing overcrowding issues. Moreover, the demand for quality public schools remains high. Fortunately, the new residents in the neighborhood adjacent to yours will contribute to the same property taxes that support the local public schools, just like everyone else within the municipality. This is the mechanism by which public schools continually expand their budgets—through a constantly growing tax base.
According to a report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), there's a noticeable trend of declining enrollment within the US pre-K-12 public school system. One fundamental factor contributing to the K-12 enrollment decline is the national birth rate, a factor unrelated to the pandemic and hence likely to continue affecting our school system. Between 2008 and 2020, birth rates in the US decreased by approximately 1.3% annually, equating to around 700,000 fewer students entering the school system from the school year (SY) 2012 through to SY2025.
The financial repercussions of enrollment declines from SY20-22 have largely remained unobserved due to state or local decisions to compensate districts for these declines and/or because the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) infused significant funding into the system through SY24. However, as enrollment continues to decline and ESSER funding phases out, districts and states might find themselves in competition with neighboring school districts to boost their student populations to maintain operational funding.