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Planning can contain sprawl

In the last of three Sunday reports, today's article examines a national development trend called sprawl. This week: What advice do experts have for smart growth?

by Nora Edinger

REGIONAL EDITOR

If you want to grow profitably, grow smart.

That's the advice of Don Reinke, director of economic development for Monongalia County, which is in the process of developing the fourth county zoning plan in the state in an effort to limit sprawl.

"With the lack of land-use controls, it makes investment decisions a little more risky," Reinke said of building a home or business in an open-zoned area. "You really don't have any idea of what's going to be built next door to you."

Reinke believes area or spot zoning provides the assurance today's developers require. That has especially been true with the significant number of out-of-state business leaders attracted to the high-technology sector along I-79.

But it's a relationship that many municipalities and counties have been slow to recognize, he added.

"They don't want to make any sort of hindrances to growth," he said of planners. "But, I believe that's a little short-sighted ... Incomers are actually surprised and disturbed at our lack of land-use controls."

While their reasons may vary, a number of sprawl experts agree with Reinke that planning for growth is a good policy. Here is a sampling of advice they shared with the Exponent-Telegram.

Nancy Treat, Planning Commission chair, Monongalia County

Treat urges planners to think of smart growth as a friend of freedom and to develop zoning that reflects the overall will of the community.

"It's a matter of carefully balancing individuals' rights with their neighbors' rights," Treat said. "Democracy is messy and slow and you have to keep up with it."

Patrick Ford, professional planner, Whitney, Bailey, Cox, Magnani LLP, Bridgeport

Ford's firm, which serves as a for-hire planning arm for Monongalia, foresees growth spreading along I-79.

He advises municipalities and counties to follow Monongalia's example and develop a spot-zoning plan to direct the growth where it is desired and protect the areas which are wanted as open space.

He would also like to see local governments better coordinate public service districts, fire and police departments, schools and planners so that all who are effected by growth are part of the decision-making team.

Gus Douglass, state Agriculture Commissioner

"We aren't making any more land," Douglass said of his major sprawl concern. "What we need to protect for the production of food -- we better set that land aside now."

He urges farmers who want to keep their land agricultural to consider participation in a new state Farmland Trust, in which the state purchases perpetual development rights to the land.

Al Hooper, Jefferson County commissioner, developer

Hooper is in favor of a new state law that allows local government to charge developers impact fees that are intended to help offset the cost of extending services to new residential areas. His rapidly growing Eastern Panhandle county may be the first to pursue such fees.

He also urges communities to bring in business as well as residential growth to balance out the tax impact.

Al Denman, former president of the Tecumseh Land Trust, Yellow Springs, Ohio

Following a nationally recognized campaign that raised $1.3 million to save a 940-acre farm from development, Denman learned it is important to have the right front people for preservation efforts.

In Yellow Springs' case, a well-respected land owner and village native was able to pull the right political and community strings to get action. A newer or lesser known resident would not have been able to accomplish that, he said.

Regional editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1403.

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