Is Lincoln Anti-Growth?

June 7, 2005 at 5:50pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Lincoln often gets a rap as being anti-growth. Most of Lincoln’s leadership would say “That’s not true. We are pro-responsible growth.” (Each individual, of course, has his own definition of “responsible growth.”) Mayor Seng even wrote an editorial the other day in which she defended Lincoln against criticism from an Omaha World-Herald editorial that criticized Lincoln’s growth policies. I nearly fell off my chair when I read it. I think it was Mayor Seng’s first act that even remotely smelled of leadership.

What is interesting to me is how surprised Lincoln’s leaders appear to be when confronted with charges of being anti-growth. It is the same kind of surprise that struck so many of them when the big infrastructure bond issue was shot down handily last fall. It is as though many of them cannot imagine that others—Lincolnites, outsiders, or whomever—might see the world differently than them. “How can they not see how right we are?” they seem to cry.

And yet then the City Council snubs $10 million worth of Wal-Mart development, and Lowe’s may be next. How can a community that claims to be pro-development turn away two excellent opportunities like that?

“But Mr. Wilson!” you say. “Those situations are much more complicated than you let on.” Indeed. That gets to another of Lincoln’s major leadership problems. In the Wal-Mart situation we have a case where the City Council said “Hey, this is a great idea!” Then they said “No, the first idea was bad. Idea #2, which pisses on the Comprehensive Plan, is much better.” Followed by “Scratch that: both ideas were bad. But we aren’t anti-Wal-Mart.”

The Lowe’s case

is similar. The City promoted urban sprawl by allowing Wal-Mart and Menards (and, to a lesser extent, Home Depot) to build far beyond Lincoln’s developed edge, causing traffic problems in an area where traffic really oughtn’t be a problem (yet). They soothed area residents by promising not to allow heavy commercial development along a particular stretch of Highway 2. And now the City wants to say “Ahh, to heck with promises! Let’s build!” Well, except for the City Council members who think it is the Council’s job to determine when there are “enough” home improvement stores in Lincoln.

In those two situations we see why Lincoln’s political scene is so screwed up. On the one hand you have the stark impression (if not reality) of an anti-development environment. On the other hand you have instability caused by continuous flip-flopping and the total unwillingness of the City’s leaders to not only take a stand, but to stick to it. With all of that going on, is it any wonder that Lincoln is perceived as being anti-growth?

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