Recently I was reading an article about the death-by-delay of an upzoning proposal near a train station in Boston because the property might have been “considered ‘priority habitat’ for rare species, including the eastern box turtle,” and I thought about all the times I’ve heard of opponents of density hiding behind environmentalism. Ed Glaeser has written about how Bay Area environmentalists’ opposition to development and California courts’ institution of onerous environmental reviews have encouraged sprawl, and last year we learned that the Northeast Corridor was denied HSR stimulus money because of the lengthy multi-state environmental review necessary.
A few minutes of Googling reveals that stormwater mitigation rules, intended to minimize the amount of polluted runoff entering the watershed, have also been accused of favoring sprawling, greenfield development over infill and denser redevelopment. Existing structures are generally grandfathered in, but any redevelopment apparently must meet the new rules, even if it has no more impervious surface than the building it seeks to replace. Density bonuses for “green” building techniques also strike me as a bit backwards, considering that density is “green” in its own right.
I can’t find any quantitative research on how much of a problem these supposedly pro-environment rules really are, and I don’t have the practical experience of a developer or a planner, but perhaps some commenters will chime in with their knowledge or come up with other instances of environmentalism taking precedence over density.