The Carter administration has given the nation's mayors increased veto power over federally aided projects that could benefit suburbs at the expenses of central cities.
The administration a year ago announced a policy giving mayor's a partiall veto over the general run of highway, housing, sewer and other public works grants in their areas. Now it has elaborated on that policy to give Mayors a particular veto over grants supporting suburban shopping centers.
Under the "community conservation" program, unhappy mayors can request community impact studies of grants that disturb them.
The studies' purpose is to determine if the projects would promote urban sprawl, or "demonstrably weaken existing communites, particulary their established busines districts."
If an analysis shows that a project would hurt the core community by undermining its business district, the sponsoring federal agency must consider an alternative plan.
The purpose, according to a White House memorandum on the "community conservation" program and related efforts is "to avoid inadvertent possible negative impacts on cities and their residents."
The policy is amassing both results and detractors.
Transportation Secretary Neil Goldschmidt recently denied $80 million in federal highway funds needed to build a 13.5-mile section of I-675 by-pass around Dayton, Ohio.
Goldschmidt, former mayor of Portland, Ore., said the bypass would add to "urban sprawl and energy consumption" and would increase "damage to the central city economy and dislocation of employment away from existing residential areas."
In Charleston, W.Va., locally elected and downtown business officials used the community conservation guidance program, initiated last month, to block construction of an interstate access road for a proposed regional shopping mall.
Charleston officials said the mall would have hurt the very central city the federal government has been trying to help.
The mall developer, Cafaro Co. of Youngstown, Ohio, has since joined efforts to extend Charleston's busines district.
Those actions have spawned charges that the administration's expanded policy is anti-suburban and overly restrictive of shopping center development.
"There are better ways to help the inner cities," a spokesman for the National Retail Merchants Association said yesterday.
"We've been upset with this policy and our members are still concerned that it might slow down expansion or construction of shopping centers.
"But, since the guidelines are out, we'll try to comply with them," the spokesman said.
The government, of course denies that it wants to hurt the suburbs or interfere with commercial development.
"We're simply doing what the private sector has said we should be doing all along," said Marshall Kaplan, deputy assistant secretary for urban policy in the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
"For years, the private sector has been telling the federal government how inefficient it was, that it too often acts before it thinks.The urbann impact studies are designed to help us invest in a way that won't hurt the communites we're trying to help," Kaplan said.
He said the expanded program "will lead to a more equitable, most cost-efficient use of federal resources."
So far, at least 10 communities large and small, have asked for impact studies on proposed suburban and regional shopping centers, Kaplan said.