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March 23, 2009

Chesapeake Bay expert urges slower growth for Albemarle County

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Source: Salisbury University

For their annual membership meeting on March 19, 2009, Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population (ASAP) asked journalist and professor Tom Horton to give an address. Horton is a writer from Salisbury, Maryland, whose work often deals with the impact that population growth has on the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

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For the last several decades, the Chesapeake Bay Authority has tried various strategies to restore the health of the bay by reducing the per person ecological footprint of residents within the watershed. However, as Horton sees it, this initiative has been a failure. Environmental goals have not been met, and he believes the reason for this poor record has been the general unwillingness to address population growth in the region.

“The blind-spot is our allegiance to perpetual economic growth and to encouraging and ever expanding a human population of consumers to support it,” Horton said.

Horton said the solution is for government bodies, local, state and federal, to enact strict immigration and growth controls. He would like to see the U.S. reduce the number of immigrants allowed to cross the border, and he praises counties that have successfully limited growth with carefully crafted zoning ordinances.

He provided the example of Calvert County, Maryland that used a Transfer of Development Rights program to slow growth from the Washington metro region. Horton conceded that the policies functionally shifted growth to neighboring counties, but he responded, “you’ve got to start somewhere.”

Beyond the benefits to the local ecosystem, Horton said there would be several other advantages to slowing population growth in Albemarle County. Crime rates would be lower, because there would be fewer young people. There would be more freedom, because sparsely populated communities typically require less regulation. Infrastructure costs will be reduced, and less money would have to be spent mitigating the impacts on global warming.

Furthermore, Horton said there would be financial potential in stopping growth.

“Generally, its useful to look at per capita prosperity as opposed to gross numbers,” Horton said, “In other words, you can have a huge increase in the property tax base, but if its accompanied by a lot more people, and a lot more expenditures to accommodate those people, where are you at? I think it’s more useful to look at what you have done for individuals.”

ASAP director Jack Marshall concluded the meeting by praising Horton. “I don’t think ASAP in it’s seven years has ever had a speaker from outside who has been as compatible with what we’re saying and doing as Tom Horton,” Marshall said.

ASAP is currently in the first stage of a study to measure the ecological carrying capacity of Albemarle County and Charlottesville.  The results of the study, which was funded in part by both local governments, are expected later this year.

Daniel Nairn


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