Everyone needs a place to live. We all have our own preference about living space, whether we like the busy city life, or the rolling fields of the countryside, or the beauty (and burden) of a shady suburban lawn.

People who have chosen to live in Spring Valley could have chosen to live anywhere in the region. If they wanted an urban environment, it’s right there in the five boroughs, even the cities of Yonkers or White Plains.

Not many people give much thought about land use laws until something upsets the balance and your environment changes. Maybe your city block experiences “blight” when businesses go under. Maybe fracking has wrecked your farm’s water supply. Or gentrification might strike your sleepy suburban street. Then you realize laws can be changed, for good or for bad purposes. The main change agent in real estate regulation today is profit and greed.

Because laws that create a suburban environment set aside larger pieces of land for single family homes, there is a profit incentive to change those laws. The value of a piece of land can increase dramatically when the rules change. This is often called “down-zoning”. Developers who are making a fortune from down-zoning will characterize this as an “improvement”. Politicians (who often get large contributions from developers) will sell the idea to the public as increasing affordability.

What residents actually experience is neither. For those who like the city life, a change from a suburban to an urban environment is already available. If they wanted to live in Brooklyn, they’d already be there. For those living in a suburban environment, having the city move to you is not an “improvement”. Affordability is only ever offered to a few, and there is no legal way to limit it to those already living in the area.

Spring Valley has become an example of all that can go wrong when planning is taken over by the profit motive. Traffic is unbearable. Commercial, industrial and residential uses are on top of each other. Hundreds of new applications are being approved, overriding the county planning board’s warnings, entirely inconsistent with the plans that were designed decades ago. Gated, whites-only developments are popping up. Green space is disappearing. Urbanization is bringing all the problems of the city, with none of the benefits.

The greater NY metropolitan area has a regional housing market. Some people live in Jersey and work in Connecticut. Some live in Rockland and work in NYC. They choose their workplace and home based on convenience and price. When housing is built, it’s price reflects the whole pool of people looking for housing in the regional market. The only factor limiting the profit incentive is land use regulation. NY State leaves most land use decisions to local government, but it also has guidelines encouraging good planning. The goal of planning is improved quality of life. Less traffic on suburban streets. Mass transit in the city. Locating industrial uses away from residential. Commercial zones that have access for deliveries without blocking traffic.

Perhaps it’s time for the state to take a more proactive role. The health and welfare of the people is at stake. The current system is broken. Spring Valley CUPON has taken the lead on monitoring and documenting the abuses. Join us at our monthly meeting to be part of the solution.


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