Land Use Principles for Georgia

November 4th, 2007 by Leave a Comment

The Lone Mountain Compact’s “Principles for Livable Cities,” to which the Georgia Public Policy Foundation is a signatory, form the basis of land use principles:

  • Absent a material threat to other individuals or the community, people should be allowed to live and work where and how they like.
  • Centralized plans that attempt to determine the detailed outcome of community form and function should be avoided; they interfere with and constrict the dynamic, adaptive and evolutionary nature of neighborhoods and cities.
  • Private property rights should be a fundamental element of development control and incorporated in local planning procedures and tools.
  • The market, not centralized planning, is more effective in driving densities and land uses.
  • Allow diversity in neighborhood design. Given relaxed planning and zoning codes and building regulations, the market will produce the desired neotraditional neighborhood design, historic neighborhood renovation and conversion and other mixed-use developments.
  • Decentralize neighborhood development decisions as far as possible. Local neighborhood associations and private covenants are superior to centralized or regional government planning agencies.
  • Growth management policies should be evaluated according to their cost of living and “burden-shifting” effects. Urban growth boundaries, minimum lot sizes, restrictions on housing development, restrictions on commercial development, and other limits on freely functioning land markets that increase the burdens on lower income groups must be rejected.
  • The rights of present residents should not supersede those of future residents. “Efficient” land use must include consideration for household and consumer wants, preferences and desires. Thus, growth controls and land-use planning must consider the desires of future residents and generations, not solely current residents.
  • Planning decisions should be based upon facts, not perceptions. The use of good data in public policy is crucial to the continued progress of American cities and the social advance of all its citizens.

Facts about Georgia land use:

Georgia, the largest state east of the Mississippi River, covers approximately 57,000 square miles, or 37.3 million acres.

Georgia’s estimated population (2005) of about 9 million residents comprises about 1.74 million rural and 7.3 million urban residents.[1] Nearly 4 million live in the 10-county metro Atlanta area of Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale counties.[2]

Despite metro Atlanta’s reputation as the poster child for sprawl, Georgia’s total urban area, which is home to more than 80 percent of the state’s population, covers just 3 percent of the state’s land area.[3] 

Forestland accounts for 24.7 million acres of Georgia’s land area, or more than 66 percent of land area. Individuals own 72 percent of the state’s commercial forestland, corporations, 21 percent and government, 7 percent.[4] 

About 11 million acres of land area are classified as farmland, made up of about 49,000 farms averaging 218 acres in size.[5]  

In the wake of national outrage over the 2005 Kelo v New London, Conn., decision in the U.S. Supreme Court, the Georgia Legislature in 2006 passed one of the strongest eminent domain reform laws in the nation, enhancing the rights of landowners in the process. Small businesses and homes can no longer be taken by local government for economic development purposes and unelected officials may no longer authorize eminent domain.[6] 

“The Planning Penalty,” a nationwide report released in 2006 by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and economist Randal O’Toole of the American Dream Coalition, found that housing remains affordable in Georgia.[7] Prices are rising at faster-than-normal rates in Savannah, however, possibly in response to Chatham County planning. Land use policies such as growth controls and zoning and other government regulations have a substantial impact on both housing and labor markets in metropolitan areas. They raise the cost of construction and constrain the housing supply, increasing demand and prices and, by reducing housing affordability, price potential workers out of an area’s job market and lower employment growth.[8] 

Dozens of counties and municipalities in have taken advantage of a Georgia law that allows local governments to impose a development impact fee on newcomers, defined as “payment of money imposed upon development as a condition to development approval to pay for a proportionate share of the cost of system improvements needed to serve growth and development.”[9] A 2006 housing report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University found that impact fees, which “place the marginal cost of infrastructure and public services on new homebuyers,” harm housing affordability.[10]  


[1] U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, “State Fact Sheets: Georgia,” updated July 7, 2006,

[2] Atlanta Regional Commission, “Robust Population Growth Continues in Atlanta Region,” Aug. 10, 2006,

[3]  USGS, The Georgia GAP Analysis Project, A Final Report, August 2003,

[4] Georgia Forestry Association,

[5] U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, “State Fact Sheets: Georgia,” updated July 7, 2006,

[6] House Bill 1313, “The Landowneŕs Bill of Rights and Private Property Protection Act,”

 [7]Georgia Public Policy Foundation and American Dream Coalition, “The Planning Penalty: How Smart Growth Makes Housing Unaffordable,”

[8] Federal Reserve Board Member Raven E. Saks,  “Job Creation and Housing Construction: Constraints on Metropolitan Area Employment Growth,”

[9] O.C.G.A. § 36-71-1 et seq.

[10] Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, “State of the Nation’s Housing 2006,”

Published by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an independent think tank that proposes practical, market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.

© Georgia Public Policy Foundation (November 4, 2006). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the Foundation is cited.

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