Friday, November 14, 2008

Grow smart when times are tough


By DOUG ABROMEIT AND KELLY JACKSON

Doug Abromeit is a board member of Citizens for Smart growth. Kelly Jackson is the director of outreach.

The national economy is down in the dumps and our local economy is suffering as well. By securing smart growth policies now, our future can be built in a more sustainable manner to help avoid a future economic crisis.

Historically, development proposals have swamped Blaine County and Wood River Valley cities, leaving them little time to evaluate existing ordinances. As development slows down, planning officials have the rare opportunity to look at planning from a bird's-eye view, evaluate policies and implement changes to ensure community values and smart growth principles are always reflected in future development applications.

Considering the current economic situation, it is obvious we must reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. Smart growth principles encourage walkable, bikeable and interconnected communities with open space, all of which allow residents to avoid the car. As we work toward clean energy sources, homes designed in compact and energy-efficient manners will become increasingly important.

We hope for density in our cities to provide more affordable housing options and revitalize our downtowns. The more residents living near a restaurant or store means more business for those establishments. These are just a few examples of how smart growth principles address existing problems. It all goes hand in hand.

There are a lot of opportunities to ensure smart growth principles are incorporated into the planning process. For one, the City of Hailey and Blaine County are presently negotiating their joint Area of City Impact agreements. This provides an opportunity to promote increased density in the city.

Blaine County Planning & Zoning commissioners are currently reviewing the county's Planned Unit Development Ordinance and its Superior Design Provision. These amendments were initiated to address recent legal concerns that its current language might be too vague and could possibly lead to another court challenge for the county.

The commission is working on ways to insure community values, such as water conservation and recreational space, are incorporated into PUD plans. They are also working to make sure the criteria for PUD applications are specific and the requirements are clear. The ideal system will allow for creativity and flexibility, while leaving no surprises for developers or citizens.

It's important that residents participate in public hearings about these issues and other planning issues as they arise.

Citizens for Smart Growth advocate vibrant communities in balance with nature. We work to preserve our natural assets—rural charm, open space, air and water quality and wildlife habitat—while encouraging economic prosperity. While we are often responding to development proposals and advising on how these developments can incorporate smart growth, much of our work is geared toward being proactive, rather than reactive, to growth. One way we do this is by working to codify smart growth principles into law.




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