Candidates have taken some conflicting positions on demand-side issues. A few, notably Schwartz, touted their support for “sustainable communities.” All, however, tripped over themselves to endorse the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s recent decision overturning a law regulating natural gas drilling, on the grounds that the state inappropriately curtailed municipalities’ powers to protect themselves from unwanted land uses through zoning.
All of the candidates agreed that local zoning powers are sacrosanct and must be respected by the state. But while it’s true that hyper-local zoning is a pro-sustainability force in the case of natural gas drilling, this may be the only instance in which state deference to 2,562 different municipal zoning codes serves Pennsylvania’s environment well.
In other cases, the supremacy of municipal zoning over Metropolitan Planning Organizations’ non-binding regional plans tends to exacerbate suburban sprawl, as state municipalities compete with each other for tax base and Big Box interchange developments.
A state intervention giving MPOs the legal teeth to override local zoning statutes that snub comprehensive regional planning goals has been an emerging political issue in some exurban townships that were inundated with sprawl in the 1990s, and would certainly advance climate and sustainability goals.
Will the gubernatorial candidates be more reluctant to support such a policy change, now that they are on record denouncing state interference in local zoning powers? These are powers, after all, that the state granted municipalities in the first place.
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