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June 26, 2002 Region Can Grow "Smart"
Spotsylvania Battlefield Education Association
Published in The Free Lance-Star, June 26, 2002
by Larry Evans

GROWTH and development are inevitable here on the southern side of the Washington metropolitan area, so it is critically important that citizens, civic leaders and the private sector launch a concerted, sustained effort to make sure that change unfolds in ways that enhance the community rather than destroy it.

You won't see much cause for optimism if you look around at the tackiness of much of the commercial development that has evolved over the past two decades.

Nor is it pleasant to imagine a future with even more traffic, fewer farms and housing costs higher than they are now.

Getting a handle on growth won't be easy, but the alternative is to sit back and let the community become the kind of place where many current residents won't want to live, work or shop.

Of course, different people can hold very different opinions about what to do or not do about growth and development. Everyone does agree on one thing, however: They want "smart growth"--whatever that is.

That term was the subject of a symposium held last week by the redericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce. Speaker Michael Pawlukiewicz (that's Pah-lew-KEV-itch) of the Washington-based Urban Land Institute told the audience what he thinks "smart growth" means.

The guiding principle is that growth and development should enhance "community livability." To accomplish that, he said, the development must be environmentally responsible as well as economically sound.

In Pawlukiewicz's view, there are nine features of "smart growth" that can be used by communities when crafting their own particular approach. Here are those nine factors and my interpretation of what he means.

1. Collaboration on solutions.

Citizens, public officials and the private sector need to seek a consensus and pursue mutually beneficial goals.

2. Mix land uses.

When houses are segregated from stores and workplaces, people must travel to get anywhere. The result is traffic congestion and sprawling development.

3. Encourage infill and redevelopment.

Build on vacant property within already-developed parts of a community rather than pave over a farm for a new subdivision or retail complex. Also, rather than build something new, refurbish--and maybe redesign--existing structures.

4. Build master-planned communities.

Growth can result in new communities within the existing community. Plan that way. Make it possible for homeowners to walk. Provide open space. Seek density of development rather than low-density sprawl.

5. Provide people with choices of transportation.

Pawlukiewicz said someone else once said that the American landscape is being transformed into habitat for cars. Fewer parking lots would be needed if there were more bus lines, rail lines, bike trails and walking paths.

6. Provide a range of housing opportunities.

At present, the economic growth of the region is not necessarily good news for everyone. Residents on the lower reaches of the economic spectrum have an increasingly hard time affording a home or, for that matter, rental housing in the Fredericksburg area.

7. Lower the barriers and provide incentive for smart development.

Local officials tend to say "go ahead" if a developer submits a plan for more of the same kind of development that has occurred the past two decades. If that same developer wants to do something innovative--or "smart"--he faces more time-consuming scrutiny from public officials, more public hearings and a risk of rejection. Meanwhile, the developer's lawyers and consultants have their meters running.

8. Follow high-quality design techniques.

People can disagree about what looks good, but does anyone admire the appearance of a strip-malled America in which every community looks equally tacky?

Local ordinances pertaining to signs, architecture and trees are not communistic intrusions on free-market capitalism. To the contrary, taste pays.

"This is good economics," said Pawlukiewicz, "because people who like a place tend to come back."

9. Conserve open space.

Much of the population growth of the Fredericksburg area over the past few decades has been fueled by people's desire to live in a semirural place on the edge of the Washington metropolitan area.

If open space disappears, so will the place.

Save Spotsylvania's historic resources!!

Contact: SBEA

PO Box 1964

Spotsylvania, VA  22553

(540) 582-7469