Your Turn

Guest Column
Arvo Prima

Guest Column
Arvo Prima
Governor’s development
proposals ‘short-sighted’

I have read with interest your editorials and guest articles supporting the governor’s "smart growth" and "anti-sprawl" proposals. Unfortunately, the governor’s proposal is both simplistic and shortsighted. Even more troubling is that it will lead to further polarization between the haves and have-nots.

First, there has been a failure to even attempt to define "smart growth" or "sprawl." One could reasonably deduce that "sprawl" is intended to describe any development that someone opposes. In the name of opposing so-called "sprawl," municipalities rezone to limit new residential housing to large lots.

But I submit that rather than combat sprawl, this rezoning in fact increases sprawl by developing land quickly and inefficiently. This rezoning has an even more insidious impact. Clearly, only the very rich can afford to purchase homes built on 3-, 5- or 10-acre lots. Therefore, what these municipalities are really doing is preventing a large segment of the population from having access to decent housing.

Instead of encouraging the construction of affordable housing, these municipalities are engaging in exclusionary zoning. I am stunned that the media would throw its weight behind such an inequitable and elitist practice. Rather, what the media should be advocating is rezoning to allow clustering on smaller lots with the remainder of the property left as open space for all to enjoy. This results in more efficient development and greater affordability so that people of all socio-economic groups have the opportunity to live in decent housing.

Then we have the concept of "smart growth" which is really a euphemism for "no growth." These "smart growth" advocates have also not defined the term but apparently want everyone in need of housing to return to the cities.

Unfortunately, they have offered no viable plan to achieve this dream. Rather, they hope to accomplish this by making it impossible to develop in the suburbs and rural areas of our state. History teaches us that the "back to the cities" movement, except in isolated cases, simply is not the preference of New Jersey families.

Families want more than just a decent house to live in. They also want a quality education for their children, safe streets, a manageable tax burden and easy transportation access. In addition, the utilities infrastructure [sewer and water lines] in many cities is nearing the end of its useful life and will need to be replaced. Government has failed to address these serious problems, all of which pose barriers to urban redevelopment far greater than the absence of new homes. The quality of life must improve before these areas will be attractive to families.

Rather, what has occurred in very limited instances is that cities such as Hoboken and the "Gold Coast" along the Hudson River have been redeveloped, but have failed to attract families. Those families prefer to live in their "American dream house" in the suburbs.

Furthermore, it is a basic fundamental of our market economy that the demand for products and services derives from the consumer, not government policy. Housing is no exception.

The state projects one million additional people moving into New Jersey in the next 20 years. That translates into the need for approximately 450,000 homes. Where will all these people live? Sadly, the state has failed to answer this question and ignoring the reality of population growth will not make it go away.

Home builders respond to the preferences of the marketplace [i.e., home buyers]. Over and over, it has been demonstrated that more and more people want to live in single-family houses in the suburbs. That has been the growth pattern in New Jersey for the past 50 years. Unfortunately, government has not succeeded in developing a plan that will be both effective and efficient. It is not the home builders who failed to appropriately use tax monies to manage state and federal highways, schools, and sewer and water lines needed to accommodate this natural growth.

It is not the home builders who have failed to change New Jersey’s antiquated tax system, which relies so heavily on the property tax for its school funding, portraying children as tax burdens, who, judging by the actions of municipal officials, should be excluded from the right to live in affordable housing in their towns.

Home builders don’t coerce families to come to New Jersey and raise their children in safe, attractive, educationally enriched communities. The consumer and home buyer instinctively wants these things. Too often, however, once the home buyer is successful in obtaining these things, they suddenly want to exclude others from the same right and will adopt any position to achieve their goal.

The policies of the McGreevey administration have been reflexively and uncritically supported by the media. Many have failed to recognize the slippery slope on which they place our state. Housing prices will continue to inflate due to an artificially restricted supply. Furthermore, the home building industry, a vital economic engine of New Jersey, will stagnate.

As a result the numerous dependent industries and many thousands of workers will suffer along with it. I urge Gov. McGreevey as well as the media to seriously consider the wider impact of his no-growth proposal on the dreams and livelihoods of hard working New Jersey families.

Arvo Prima is the president of the New Jersey Shore Builders Association, Lakewood.