With municipalities across America questioning the value of business tax incentives, one community is completing the sixth study illustrating the true costs and benefits of the prevailing political mantra, “Growth is good.”

Backed by Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population, this latest work finds that to cover the cost of new roads, schools, water and services with tax revenue every future house sold in Virginia’s Albemarle County and the city of Charlottesville must have a $668,761price tag. To compensate for previous growth, the next two thousand homes in the central Virginia county must average selling for $2.7 million.

The average price of a residence sold so far in 2012? $301,000.

While other communities might have different experiences, if they do the calculations they will likely discover a similar financial discrepancy between myth and reality. Even before realizing that businesses often fail to create the jobs they promised for tax incentives, growth rarely, and perhaps never, pays for itself.

At the same moment Uncle Sam is $16 trillion in debt and facing the fiscal cliff, better than a third of Virginia’s entire Gross Domestic Product today comes from federal sources. With the Commonwealth endorsing four percent budget cuts, there is no longer anyone to pick up slack in any community’s failure to honestly address the cost and benefits of growth.

ASAP’s desire is to drive discussion toward an “optimum sustainable population” in order that city and county planners might produce what should be the most basic strategic concept: “How populated do we want our area’s 736 square miles to be?” Albemarle County is certainly not alone in neglecting to include this “ultimate goal” vision in our comprehensive planning processes.

Prior ASAP studies, paid for through small grants from the city and county and a larger foundation grant, indicate that at 144,000 people our area already teeters beyond nature’s capacity for human habitation. To support Albemarle County and Charlottesville’s present population without importing clean air, water and food from other locations, ASAP’s biocapacity study indicates the county would physically need almost four times its present physical landmass.

Of course, nature does not confine herself to human political jurisdictions but for every Charlottesville, there are population centers like New York, Chicago, Washington, and Richmond, each of which is less likely to live, and grow, within its monetary and environmental means. Albemarle County, indeed, filters significant amounts of clean water and air through 486 square miles of forest and produces tons of human food on 166 square miles of crop and pasture land.

No doubt, pro-growth proponents will argue with ASAP’s analyses but, even if the respective economic and ecological models fail to cover every eventuality, the 66 percent discrepancy between tax income and service outgo or the 370 percent difference between landmass and population should cause even the most dedicated developer pause.

Albemarle County is, perhaps, a microcosm of world population issues. With human population projected to climb to 9.2 billion by 2050 while daily there are news articles on present planetary stress, when do people begin to assess our own desires? And when do we begin to consider how many of we humans can survive on this good Earth – even if we learn to live with less-consumptive lifestyles?

With the economics so out of balance as ASAP’s “Counting the Cost and Benefits of Growth” study indicates today, when indeed do we begin to analyze that resounding “Growth is Good” mantra?