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87 Cornell L. Rev. 158 (2001-2002)


Election day 2000 was not a good day for proponents of suburban growth controls. The overwhelming initial support for initiatives that proposed state-wide growth management plans in Colorado and Arizona withered in the face of vigorous opposition campaigns. And, pro-planning forces in Oregon woke up on Wednesday morning to learn that voters had approved a little-noticed initiative amending the state constitution to require compensation for partial takings - that is, for any reduction in the fair market value of property resulting from government regulation - thus throwing into question the future of the State's widely touted model controlled-growth scheme.

These election results fly in the face of conventional wisdom: Public opinion polls consistently show high levels of support for curbing suburban growth, with many Americans listing the ills of suburban sprawl as the most important issue facing their communities. What's more, so-called smart growth initiatives enjoyed unprecedented success at the polls during the 1998 election cycle. Advocates were understandably disappointed with the results in Colorado and Arizona, where unprecedented growth has driven anti-sprawl sentiments to an all time high. At least on the surface, all three of these election results suggest that voters' asserted support for growth controls may be thinner than advocates had hoped - or at least that it has limits. This essay uses the November election results to explore what those limits may be: Why did voters reject growth controls in Colorado and Arizona, and limit them in Oregon, despite repeated protestations that they strongly support them? What distinguishes the so-called smart-growth policies that enjoyed continued success at the polls? And, what does the discrepancy between successful and unsuccessful policies tell us about how people may react to future efforts to control the supposedly dreaded suburban sprawl?


Reprinted with permission of Cornell Law Review.

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