Hysteria and the Push for County Zoning
in La Salle County Illinois

To read the La Salle County Comprehensive Plan, one might get the impression that if county zoning is not adopted, and right away, metropolitan Chicago will overrun the area in just a few years. Indeed, by one projection in the plan, just 19 years from now there would be three times as many people in La Salle County as there are today, at more than 320,000 residents, There's just one problem. The planners who drafted the plan are suffering from an acute case of hysteria.

The just released census figures show that the La Salle County of 2000 had only one percent more population than in 1960. Over the same 40 years, the national population growth rate was 56 percent. And while La Salle County grew somewhat in the 1990s, reversing prior losses, the growth rate remains below that natural increase rate of the nation (births minus deaths).

Further, the planners have tried to scare people into believing that urbanization is "stealing" agricultural land. But there are serious problems with this theory. It is true that farmland was reduced four percent over the latest US Department of Agriculture (USDA) census period (1992 to 1997). But, over the more than 300 years of its history to 1990 (latest data available), all of the cities in the county combined covered less than three percent of the land. You can't blame five years of farm land loss on 300 years of urbanization.

The fact is that there is little, if any connection between urbanization and the loss of farm land. Farm land is being taken out of production because of improved agricultural productivity. The nation produces more than twice as much as in 1950, and does so on less farm land. The USDA has indicated that there is no threat to either farm land or prime farm land from urbanization --- that there is plenty of land to produce the food we need. The lack of connection between urbanization is illustrated by comparing La Salle County to Will County, just south of Chicago. While La Salle County was adding 3,000 people from 1992 to 1997, 24,000 acres of farm land was taken out of production. At the same time, Will County was adding more than 70,000 people, but lost only 32,000 farm land acres, not much more than La Salle County. Indeed, from 1987 to 1992, La Salle County lost 29,000 acres of farm land and lost population. If the urbanization-farm land use theory is correct, then each person who left La Salle County took 48 acres of farm land with them.

What is not in dispute, however, is the intention of county planners to outlaw residential development in rural areas. Besides taking away the rights of people to control their own property, this will create financial winners and losers. Forcing all development into the cities will create windfalls for connected real estate interests who will quickly snap up the limited amounts land that county zoning will allow to be developed. Housing prices will rise, forcing more county residents to live in rental units and mobile homes. At the same time, as the development potential of farm land is taken away, land values will plummet, by perhaps one-third.

If all this sounds like incoherent policy, it is. But it is not surprising. The county's comprehensive plan is based upon faulty analysis, faulty logic and faulty data. Remember the 320,000 residents projected for 2020? That was based upon what the planners claimed was the last 30 year growth rate of the Chicago metropolitan area. They should have checked their calculations. The reality is that, at the 30 year Chicago area growth rate, La Salle County would add barely 15,000 people over the next 30 years and have a population of 125,000. If this were medicine, it would be called malpractice.

(c) 2001 --- Wendell Cox Consultancy --- Permission granted to use with attribution.
Demographia is "pro-choice" with respect to urban development.
People should have the freedom to live and work where and how they like.

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