A downside to America's booming economy during the 1990s is uncontrolled development. Western states are experiencing a flood of new settlers; refugees from overpopulated, crime-ridden major cities. The first ripples were seen when a handful of the rich and famous purchased large ranches in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and other mountain states. A wave of upper-middle class Americans followed seeking the new American dream: a 35-acre ranchette with room to ride a horse or an ATV, and the occasional opportunity to actually shift a sport-utility vehicle (SUV) into four-wheel-drive.

The strain on many rural western communities has been tremendous. Schools and other services such as utilities and fire departments struggle to keep up with the growth. And many ranchers are finding their new neighbors to be less than? well, neighborly.

But western ranchers aren't alone in the struggle with development. Growth around Atlanta, for instance, consumes 500 acres of fields and farmland each week. Many are calling the area the fastest spreading human development in history. As proof, they point to the fact that the Atlanta metro area is now over 110 miles across, up from 65 miles in 1990. Kansas City represents another frightening example: between 1990 and 1996 the city spread 70 percent, while its population, now 1.9 million, grew just 5 percent.

Most Americans are now affected by the uncontrolled urban sprawl. The search for affordable housing and land to build it on leads urbanites further from their jobs in metropolitan centers. And political decisions have fueled development for decades. Federal highway subsidies, for instance, have paid for new roads to far-flung strip malls and housing subdivisions. Many localities have resisted increasing housing density because it brings in more people but less property-tax revenue.

Americans, however, are beginning to fight sprawl with ideas for smart growth and new local laws designed to control suburban overgrowth. Last November at least 240 antisprawl initiatives were on ballots around the country, and most of them passed. Twelve states have already enacted growth-management laws, and others are likely to follow. Individual citizens also are working to fight sprawl with petition drives to get new initiatives on the ballot.

But limiting growth also creates a conflict between the rights of the community and individual rights. The American Dream remains a large house in a quiet neighborhood. But smart growth initiatives envision a population packed into town houses and globally conscious citizens who ride trains and busses and leave the SUV at home.

Sprawl has become such a concern that even potential presidential candidates are addressing the issue. Al Gore for instance, has unveiled a "livability agenda," a plank in his environmental platform he hopes will attract important swing voters.

Regardless of the amount of direct impact you are experiencing from sprawl or development, how the issue is resolved in Washington or your statehouse may directly impact your business. Research the issue at your state and local level to make sure anti-sprawl remedies aren't anti-farming or anti-ranching initiatives. Contact your state and local authorities to help them understand your concerns for your family and your business.