Iowa Smart Planning Legislation Summary Part I: Smart Planning Principles

by Gary Taylor

As of this morning the final enrolled version of the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure appropriations bill – SF 2389 – which contains the final outcome of the legislative effort on smart planning, has not been made available on-line.  It still awaits transmittal to the Governor who could sign it, veto it, or line item veto parts of it and sign the remainder.  This summary, therefore, may be premature; however, I think it is worthwhile to begin to examine in more detail the major components of the bill related to smart planning. 

Some important changes were made to the legislation after my post on March 29, but before the final version passed the House and Senate.  The eminent domain language that was added near the last minute was modified to provide that the eminent domain authority of state agencies, local governments, and other public entities planning according to smart planning principles does not change; i.e., they receive neither expanded nor reduced authority to exercise eminent domain. 

Also, the amendment that gave the smart planning taskforce the job of developing a model 0.2% floodplain ordinance was stripped out of the bill.  Presumably, then, the taskforce could still make a recommendation that such a model ordinance be developed, but they are not required to develop one. 

Finally, (and this is a very important addition) the final version makes $30 million in grant funds available to cities and counties for public construction projects relating to disaster prevention, but limits eligibility for those funds to cities and counties “that [apply] the smart planning principles and guidelines” during the deliberation and development of planning, zoning, development, and resource management decisions.   

Over the next week or two I will summarize the major sections of the bill starting here, with the section concerning smart planning principles.  The section reads as follows:

18B.1  Iowa smart planning principles.
State agencies, local governments, and other public entities shall consider and may apply the following principles during deliberation of all appropriate planning, zoning, development, and resource management decisions, except that nothing in this section shall be construed to expand the eminent domain authority of a state agency, local government, or other public entity beyond that which is authorized under chapter 6A or 6B:
   1.  Collaboration.  Governmental, community, and individual stakeholders, including those outside the jurisdiction of the entity, are encouraged to be involved and provide comment during deliberation of planning, zoning, development, and resource management decisions and during implementation of such decisions. The state agency, local government, or other public entity is encouraged to develop and implement a strategy to facilitate such participation.
   2.  Efficiency, transparency, and consistency.  Planning, zoning, development, and resource management should be undertaken to provide efficient, transparent, and consistent outcomes.  Individuals, communities, regions, and governmental entities should share in the responsibility to promote the equitable distribution of development benefits and costs.
   3.  Clean, renewable, and efficient energy.  Planning, zoning, development, and resource management should be undertaken to promote clean and renewable energy use and increased energy efficiency.
   4.  Occupational diversity.  Planning, zoning, development, and resource management should promote increased diversity of employment and business opportunities, promote access to education and training, expand entrepreneurial opportunities, and promote the establishment of businesses in locations near existing housing, infrastructure, and transportation.
   5.  Revitalization.  Planning, zoning, development, and resource management should facilitate the revitalization of established town centers and neighborhoods by promoting development that conserves land, protects historic resources, promotes pedestrian accessibility, and integrates different uses of property.  Remediation and reuse of existing sites, structures, and infrastructure is preferred over new construction in undeveloped areas.
   6.  Housing diversity.  Planning, zoning, development, and resource management should encourage diversity in the types of available housing, support the rehabilitation of existing housing, and promote the location of housing near public transportation and employment centers.
   7.  Community character.  Planning, zoning, development, and resource management should promote activities and development that are consistent with the character and architectural style of the community and should respond to local values regarding the physical character of the community.
   8.  Natural resources and agricultural protection. Planning, zoning, development, and resource management should emphasize protection, preservation, and restoration of natural resources, agricultural land, and cultural and historic landscapes, and should increase the availability of open spaces and recreational facilities.
   9.  Sustainable design.  Planning, zoning, development, and resource management should promote developments, buildings, and infrastructure that utilize sustainable design and construction standards and conserve natural resources by reducing waste and pollution through efficient use of land, energy, water, air, and materials.
  10.  Transportation diversity.  Planning, zoning, development, and resource management should promote expanded transportation options for residents of the community. Consideration should be given to transportation options that maximize mobility, reduce congestion, conserve fuel, and improve air quality.

The first iteration of these principles can be found in the Green Paper developed by the Rebuild Iowa Office last summer, as a follow up to the work of the Rebuild Iowa Advisory Commission and its various subcommittees.  At first blush it is easy to draw comparisons to the ten Smart Growth principles advanced by the Smart Growth Network since the 1990s; The Iowa Smart Planning principles, however, are directed at broader concerns.  While the SGN principles focus on development outcomes and processes, and the relationship of the land to the built environment, Iowa’s Smart Planning principles have currency with issues of employment, energy efficiency, and green building, in addition to those issues commonly associated with smart growth.  In this way the Iowa Smart Planning principles reflect the three-legged stool of economic growth, environmental protection and social equity. 

It would also be easy to draw parallels to states such as Oregon and Washington that have put in place statewide planning goals, but again the smart planning principles address broader concerns.  In fact, one of the charges to the Smart Planning Taskforce is to develop statewide goals for comprehensive planning that incorporate the smart planning principles. 

Of course, the real influence of Iowa’s Smart Planning principles remains to be seen.  How will state agencies respond to these principles?  Will administrative rules be amended to incorporate the principles into agency decision-making?  Presumably the recommendations of the task force will be critical to this issue.

Making eligibility for $30 million in infrastructure funds contingent on following the smart planning principles will certainly advance their adoption at the local government level; however, other states that have advanced statewide planning goals also have put into place some level of state oversight over local comprehensive planning.  This bill does not do that.  Absent state oversight, and on the chance that funding “carrots” may not always be present, will smart planning be a high priority of Iowa cities and counties?

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