Statement of Senator Lincoln D. Chafee
Hearing on the Community Character Act of 2001 (S. 975)
March 6, 2002
Good morning. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for conducting today’s hearing on the Community Character Act of 2001. I introduced this legislation on May 25, 2001 and was joined by Senators Bennett, Specter, Jeffords, Cleland, Levin, Bingaman, and Lieberman. The bill provides federal assistance to States and Indian tribes to create or update statewide or tribal land use planning legislation. Up-to-date planning legislation empowers States and local governments to spur economic development, protect the environment, coordinate transportation and infrastructure needs, and preserve our communities.
America has grown from East to West, as well as from an urban setting to suburban one. The nation's sweeping growth can be attributed to many things, including a strong economy and transportation and technology advancements that allow people to live greater distances from work. Due in part to inadequate planning, strip malls and retail development catering to the automobile have become the trademark of the American landscape.
In the wake of the post-World War II building boom, my hometown of Warwick, Rhode Island had experienced the type of development that too often offends the eye and saps our economic strength. Due to a lack of planning, incremental and haphazard development occurred through a mixture of incompatible zoning decisions. Industrial and commercial facilities and residential homes were frequently and inappropriately sited next to each other. The local newspaper described the city as a "suburban nightmare". However, we learned that proper approaches to planning would help every state meet its challenges, whether it is preserving limited open space in the East or protecting precious drinking water supplies in the West.
The Community Character Act will benefit each community and neighborhood by authorizing the Economic Development Administration to provide $25 million per year to States and tribes for the purpose of planning. The bill recognizes that land use planning is appropriately vested at the state and local levels, and accords States and tribes flexibility in using their grants. The bill does not prescribe any particular approach to land use planning, because each community must decide for itself what is appropriate.
Mistakes made through haphazard development are very costly and not easily erased. Once started down that path, communities may feel like they can never get their head above water. I view this legislation as an opportunity for the federal government to play a limited, but helpful role. In the past, the federal government has been more of a culprit than a partner. Through enactment of numerous and often-times incompatible laws regarding transportation, housing, environment, energy, and economic development, the federal government has created a demand for state and local planning. The Community Character Act should be viewed as providing the federal payment for an unfunded mandate whose account is overdue.
The Senators who have sponsored this bill represent geographically diverse states, from Rhode Island to New Mexico and from Georgia to Utah. This bipartisan bill represents a small investment in our communities, but one that will yield large dividends to communities in each corner of the nation.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.