State Growth Management Summaries


Eight states with comprehensive growth management legislation were reviewed and summarized;

The eight states are listed below and linked from the left. (Click a state name to jump to that plan)

q      Florida

q      Georgia

q      Maine

q      Maryland

q      New Jersey

q      Oregon

q      Vermont

q      Washington




Since 1972, Florida’s growth management programs have been evolving to become some of the most effective programs in the country.  In the 1970’s Florida experienced not only  rapid growth and development, but also the subsequent environmental problems, the most significant being a water crisis.  Recognizing that the South Florida basin could only support a limited number of people while maintaining a quality environment, Governor Askew (D) passed several key pieces of legislation that aimed to protect critical and sensitive environmental resources:  (1) the Water Resources Act (a key element in the success of the state’s growth management strategy: (2)  The Comprehensive Planning Act (greatly strengthened the state’s role in planning by  establishing the Division of State Planning in the Department of Administration); and (3) the Land Conservation Act of 1972 (issued $200 million in bonds to buy environmentally endangered lands).  The three acts  mutually support successful growth management in the state.  


A key concept in Florida’s  growth management strategy is consistency among state, regional, and local plans.  The 1975 Florida State Comprehensive Planning Act mandated that all local government’s prepare, adopt, and implement comprehensive plans.  However, local plans contained only vague goals and policies, and most did not have a map component.   In 1985, the State and Regional Planning Act required state agencies to prepare strategic plans.  The state agency plans were combined to create the State Comprehensive Plan.  The purpose of the State Plan is not to have the state designate uses for specific portions of the state or for specific parcels.  Rather, the plan outlines 25 goals and over 360 strategic policies.  The Local Government Comprehensive Planning Act of 1985 required that the state review local comprehensive plans to determine that they are consistent with State and Regional Plans.  This act also required that proposed development projects be evaluated based on their “concurrency” with existing infrastructure.  Developments are not approved unless adequate public facilities are in place to meet the needs for that development.


Florida’s Land Management Act allows the state to reassert its authority over land use in Areas of Critical State Concern and also over projects deemed as Developments of Regional Impact (DRI).  Areas of Critical Concern are defined as land that has special environmental, historical, archaeological, and other state or regional importance.  The DRI process subjects projects such as airports, large housing projects or projects that cross multi-jurisdictional boundaries to special review by the regional planning authority, and possibly by the governor and cabinet.  If a project is considered a DRI, the local government must determine whether to allow the development.  If it is allowed, the Regional planning agencies are given an active role.


Adequate funding to monitor compliance with the Land Management Act and consistency among state, regional, and local plans are some of Florida’s biggest downfalls in an effective growth management strategy.  While great accomplishments have been achieved, growth management in Florida would be more successful if the state took a more direct role in implementing the land-and growth-management system.


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Utilizing strong gubernatorial leadership and an open process, Georgia adopted the very inclusive Georgia Planning Act of 1989.   Several factors lead Georgia to the point of adoption.  First, fewer than 20% of Georgia’s 700 city and county governments had a coordinated and comprehensive approach to land use.  Second, there was acknowledgement that benefits from planning and economic development was necessary.  Finally, it became clear that there was a need for more than just local review of various environmental issues.  By 1987 Governor Harris appointed a 35 member Growth Strategies Commission.


The Commission was given 18 months to devise a statewide growth strategy.  Four different task forces, along with trained facilitators helped to develop the strategy reports. These reports became the foundation of the 1989 Georgia Planning Act.  The Act took effect in October 1990 with full completion of the process in 1995.  Five major target areas were identified: a three-tiered statewide planning system; human needs including human resources and education; protection of the environment; strengthening local communities; and building capacity for growth. 


The chief planner is the governor who works through the Department of Community Affairs.  This is the state or first level of the three-tiered, bottom-up, top-down system.  This department is responsible for overseeing local planning performances, while providing technical assistance.  In addition, the department through local or regional nominations designates the Regionally Important Resources (RIR) and establishes a review procedure for Developments of Regional Impact (DRI).


At the regional level, the regional planning agencies are responsible for reviewing local plans for compliance with the established state standards.  They also review the RIR’s and the DRI’s in addition to mediating any conflicts that may arise in regions, concerning local plans.


At the third or local level, financial incentives are provided for participating local governments that adopt acceptable comprehensive plans within a designated time frame.  A one-cent sales tax increase provides $5 million in state grant money.  Zoning control remains at the local level, but localities are required to set regulations consistent with minimum state standards.  Localities are also required to develop capital improvement plans consistent with local comprehensive plans.  By complying with and adopting the minimum state standards, localities may become a Qualified Local Government and may then levy impact fees.  Even though the Georgia Planning Act directly addresses housing issues, localities are required to adopt a housing element within their comprehensive plans.


Unfortunately, weakened gubernatorial support has reduced the effectiveness of the Georgia Planning Act of 1989.  


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Maine experienced little of the growth pressures that were sweeping the U.S. in the 1970’s.  However, in the 1980’s, the state realized that incoming growth pressures were a "threat to quality of life due to unrestrained development".   It was then that Maine chose to implement programs to accommodate growth while protecting natural resources. 


After intense negotiations and immense public input, the State passed the Comprehensive Planning and Land Use Regulation Act in 1989.  The Act created the office of Comprehensive Planning within the existing Department of Economic and Community Development.  Its purpose was to review and comment on local plans, but not approve them.  The office also provided technical and financial assistance to localities in creating their plans.  The Act established a review process for local plans to be evaluated based on their consistency with state goals.  An emphasis on regional consistency among neighboring localities was a significant component of the Act.  The Act also included 10 state goals that local plans must link their recommendations to and certain state agencies also had to comply with.  The state goals related to water quality, forest and agricultural lands, critical areas, transportation and housing.


The Act specifically focused on local programs, namely the inventory and analysis of demographic projections and infrastructure needs.  Policy  development consistent with state goals was to be linked to the inventory and analysis.  Localities were to define an implementation strategy that required land use and other significant ordinances be adopted within one year of the law’s adoption.  


Localities that adopted comprehensive plans that meet state established criteria were eligible for certain programs and funding.  For example, in the future only those localities with certified growth management programs would be eligible to mandate impact fees and other local fees related to land use regulation, such as site review and subdivision fees.  One of Maine’s state goals called for localities to ensure affordable housing opportunities for all citizens.  Each municipality was to be sure that 10% of all new residential development met the definition of affordable housing.   The state goal required localities to develop strategies employing devices such as density increases, public acquisition of sites, and the use of existing subsidy programs to advance the affordable housing goal. 

Unfortunately, lack of adequate funding due to the recession caused the legislature to discontinue the programs and the office in 1992. 


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         The Maryland General Assembly adopted the Smart Growth Initiatives in 1997.  These initiatives are made up of several programs that collectively seek to curb the growth of sprawling development into Maryland’s rural areas and also to revitalize older, developed areas.  As with most states with strong growth management programs, Maryland’s success in passing the Smart Growth legislation was made possible by strong leadership from Maryland governor, Parris Glendening. 


“Priority Funding Areas” lie at the heart of Maryland’s Smart Growth Initiatives.  This legislation gives priority for state funding to areas already developed or designated for future growth.  These are locations that the state and local governments have decided would be most appropriate for future economic development and growth, with minimal sprawl effects.  Areas must meet several guidelines in order to qualify as a Priority Funding Area.  These guidelines include intended use, availability of sewer and water systems, and permitted residential density.


Several other programs in the 1997 legislation support locally-identified development areas.  There is the Brownfields Program to attract commercial and industrial developers to sites that have already been developed.  This program contains the Brownfields Revitalization Incentive Program to offset some of the problems associated with brownfield redevelopment, such as contamination clean-up and liability issues.  Also included in the Smart Growth Initiatives are amendments to the 1996 Job Creation Tax Credit Program.  These amendments encourage small business development and job growth in areas with an available labor force and also make more efficient use of existing infrastructure.  The “Live Near Your Work (LNYW)” Program encourages employees to purchase homes near their workplace.  This program was enacted to stimulate home ownership in certain communities around the state.  The program provides a minimum of $3,000 to those who purchase homes in the designated areas.  The State not only provides resources to this program, but also participates as one of the major employers.


Another goal of the Maryland Smart Growth Initiatives is the preservation of open space and undeveloped land and the balance of this land with developed areas in the State.  The Rural Legacy Program works at redirecting existing State funds into a land dedication program designed to limit the impacts of sprawl on agricultural lands and natural resources.  Through this program the State expects to protect approximately 240,000 acres of resource lands by the year 2011.


Although this legislation is new and many effects of the Initiatives are still unknown, the Maryland Smart Growth Initiatives are considered landmark legislation in the fight against sprawl.  Early indicators show that the program is a success and many states have begun to model their growth management strategies after the Maryland example.


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New Jersey

         The New Jersey State Planning Act was enacted in 1985.  This act created the State Planning Commission and mandated that the Commission prepare and adopt a State Development and Redevelopment Plan by July 2, 1987.  By the fall of 1988, the Plan was available to begin a process called “cross-acceptance.”  This process is unique to New Jersey’s growth management plan and involves a period of review by and negotiation among the planning units across the state and the harmonizing of local and county plans with the provisions in the state plan.  The goals of the New Jersey State Planning Act were to curb suburban sprawl, concentrate development, steer new growth to mixed-use centers along transportation corridors, and to spur new growth in older urban areas.


         The State Planning Commission developed a five-part growth management system to aid in reaching the goals set forth in the Act.  A “tier system” growth management structure was created to delineate categories designated either for limited growth or as areas where development was targeted.  An emphasis on regional planning was established with the “Regional Design System.”  This system organized growth within each of the tiers.  State goals were set to guide the regional and local planning process through the “Statewide Strategies and Policies.”  These policies were to help achieve the goals that were common throughout the tiers by coordinating the government at all levels.  The “Monitoring and Evaluation System” was enacted to assess the effectiveness of the State Development and Redevelopment Plan in achieving the state goals.  And finally, the “Cross-Acceptance Process” was designed to assure an intergovernmental approach to creating the final Plan.


         New Jersey has not been effective in developing a system of sticks and carrots to assure local compliance with the State Development and Redevelopment Plan.  No central mechanism has been developed in the State that has regulatory powers to enforce compliance.  Currently the State is using persuasion and the implications of state infrastructure finance policies to obtain local compliance.  The State also suggests that the judiciary might play a role in reviewing local decisions not to participate as their general welfare and relationship to the state plan affects the entire state.


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Oregon enacted its acclaimed growth management law, the Land Conservation Act (LCA), in 1973.  Its passage was a reaction to heavy suburban growth in the Willamette Valley and the state’s northwestern coastline with its accompanying problems (traffic congestion, air pollution, sewage pollution, etc.) during the 1960’s and early 1970’s.  Strong leadership by Governor Tom McCall and Senator/dairy farmer Hector Macpherson led to the law’s enactment.


         The LCA demands that every city and county in Oregon develop a comprehensive plan in conformance with nineteen state goals established by the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC).  These goals include preserving agricultural lands (Goal 3), conserving forest lands to ensure a viable forestry industry (Goal 4), conserving open space (Goal 5), providing affordable housing (Goal 10), and providing for an orderly and efficient transition from rural to urban land use (Goal 14).  Goal 14 has become one of the most renown as the LCDC read it to require all incorporated cities to adopt urban growth boundaries outside of which land is to remain rural.  Although their actual effects are in dispute, UGB’s theoretically stifle urban sprawl and promote urban forms characteristic of higher-density, more likely to be transit-oriented, and less likely to lead to urban decay as new development is largely directed to existing areas.   


          The LCDC is charged with reviewing each locality’s plan for conformance with the state goals.  This process is known as acknowledgement.  Once a locality’s plan is acknowledged, it must alter its land use and zoning regulations to be consistent with the plan within a period of one year.  Subsequent decisions and actions of the locality are also required to be consistent with the plan.  In addition, state agencies are required to conform with acknowledged comprehensive plans.


         If a locality fails to receive acknowledgement of its comprehensive plans or land use regulations or is determined by the LCDC to have acted inconsistently with its plan, it can lose state revenues and grants and be subject to sanctions.  Revenues from gas, cigarette, and liquor taxes can be withheld by the state.  Since compliance with the LCA is required by state law, the LCDC can also seek a variety of enforcement and court orders that carry legal or equitable remedies.  To activate its enforcement powers, the LCDC must issue an order demanding that a local government, state agency, or special district bring its comprehensive plan, land use regulations, and land use decisions into compliance.  The order must specify the nature of the violation as well as the corrective action needed.        


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In 1970, Vermont initiated its first move toward growth management with the passage of Act 250.  Unfortunately, due to underfunding and understaffing, the legislation for adoption of a temporary plan to guide the beginning regulatory process never fully materialized.  The plan included a land capability and development plan combined with a state land planning law.  By the 1980’s, growth pressures led to reconsideration for an effective growth management plan for the state.


Governor Madeline Kunin, through an executive order in 1987, created the 12 member Commission on Vermont’s Future to develop “a new stimulus to plan for desirable and orderly growth”…”with a particular focus on planning at the regional level where local and state interests can be reconciled most effectively”.  The Commission was charged with: reviewing Vermont’s growth patterns; the effectiveness of existing programs and laws addressing growth issues; propose state principles and goals to preserve Vermont’s valued character (agriculture); and also to propose ways of providing jobs and housing for state residents; followed by recommendations to guide local, regional, and state action.  Consensus was developed through a series of public hearings.  Issues that came to light through the public hearing process are: a steep decline in farms and farming, no protection for natural resources through effective growth management, inflationary housing prices with a lack of affordable housing, and with economic growth in the low-wage sector. 


After the Commission’s report, the Growth Management Act of 1988 (Act 200) took effect.  Originally, 32 planning goals were established.  However, in 1990, the 32 goals were compressed into 12 specific, but simpler goals for the state, state agencies, regional planning commissions, and towns.  Financial incentives are provided for developing the non-mandatory town comprehensive plans.  When towns do adopt comprehensive plans that are consistent with the state’s goals they receive additional state funds, technical assistance, and influence over state policies that are applied locally.


The key components of Act 200 include financial incentives and two housing measures.  The financial incentives include a property transfer tax increase from .5% to 1.25% with a $100,000 exclusion for principal residences and working farms.  The two housing components include significant support to a trust fund for aiding affordable housing.  The second component includes requirement of local and regional authorities to provide sites for a variety of housing types.


Unfortunately, property rights advocates joined forces and were effective in removing the consistency requirements of local planning.  Still the towns are left with the “incentives” package.


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In 1990 Washington joined a growing number of states with comprehensive growth management legislation by passing the Growth Management Act (GMA).  The catalysts for the law were high population growth during the 1970’s and 1980’s, particularly in the Central Puget Valley, and high public infrastructure costs to support the growth, which was largely taking the form of low-density sprawl.  Oregon’s high-profile Land Conservation Act also provided Washington with an influential example of a successful growth management law. 


         The GMA requires that cities and counties with growth greater than 20% in the past 10 years, or with 50,000 people + 10% growth over 10 years, adopt comprehensive land use plans.  Plans must consider the following elements: the uses of land, existing and projected housing needs, existing and projected public facility needs, existing and projected utility needs, open space corridors, and existing and projected transportation needs consistent with land use.  Localities are also required to define urban growth areas based on 20-year growth forecasts outside of which only non-urban growth is allowed.  A locality’s subsequent development regulations must be consistent with the comprehensive plan.  Plans may be modified only once a year.


          Washington’s Growth Management Commission reviews plans for consistency with the goals.  The Commission’s enforcement powers include incentives in the form of financial and technical assistance, and disincentives including loss of eligibility for state infrastructure grants and loans as well as loss of sales, liquor, and gas tax revenues. State agencies are required to comply with approved comprehensive plans. 


         The GMA encourages Washington localities to use innovative growth management techniques like cluster housing, planned unit developments, impact fees, transfer of development rights, and to form regional transportation organizations.  The GMA also has a concurrency requirement that can block new development if necessary.


         Washington later passed the Shoreline Management Act, which requires coastal communities to develop an inventory of their shorelines and a master program for their regulation in accordance with state economic and conservation goals.


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