Updating Growth Plans: the Next 20 Years

The stated purpose of Tennessee’s Growth Policy Act was to establish a comprehensive growth policy for the state, part of which was a requirement to designate urban growth boundaries, planned growth areas, and rural areas based on projections of growth over a 20-year period that is soon coming to an end.  These growth plans do not expire, and there is also no requirement to update them.

While one of the primary reasons for cities and counties to establish growth plans—to define where cities could annex by ordinance without consent—has been eliminated, there are still several ways growth plans determine where annexation and incorporation can occur.  No city can annex territory in another’s urban growth boundary, and new cities can only incorporate in  planned growth areas.  Growth boundaries also delineate cities’ planning and zoning authority outside city limits in counties where cities have been granted that authority.

Growth plans were first adopted 15 years ago and were based on 20-year projections that have since become outdated.  Not only are they old, but the economic recession has fundamentally changed growth patterns in many areas.  Actual growth and development in some counties has lagged projections and in other places far exceeded them.  This is certain to happen again.

Consequently, any plan not revisited in the last few years is likely to be outdated.  The legislature should require all counties to reconvene their coordinating committees and review their growth plans before a certain date and revise or readopt them and repeat this process at regular intervals or as circumstances require.  To ensure that the plans are at least readopted, if not revised, the legislature could allow current plans to remain in place but reinstate the prohibition against receiving state grants until the local governments can agree on a plan.  To better ensure that development within growth boundaries is consistent with city standards, approval by the county legislative body of the newly adopted growth plan could be deemed approval of extension of cities’ planning authority within their urban growth boundaries where counties have not adopted planning requirements of their own.