You hear that phrase kicked around a lot. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you will soon.
As the City of Beaufort works on its comprehensive plan over the next few months, the words smart growth will be etched into your brain for all eternity.
The problem is, what is it?
Below I’ve listed the ten principles of smart growth, as presented by the city’s planning consultants. I’ve also included my own interpretation and comments.
Mix land uses. Translation: It’s time to sacrifice the sacred cow of single land-use zoning. You probably would know the zoning litany if you heard it. It varies according to where you are, but it goes something like this: a parcel of land can be zoned rural, residential, commercial, industrial, or rural. This is because in the old days, in the golden age before excessive government regulation, homeowners were threatened by toxic factories and tenements that moved into their neighborhoods and damaged their property values. It’s not so much a problem any more. This means shopping, services and workplaces don’t have to be in mutually exclusive zones.
Take advantage of compact building design. Translation: Single family homes are hogging up too much space. Scoot over and make room for the rest of us. And while you’re at it build more than one or two stories on that parcel. Let’s use the excess capacity in that sewer line you’re tapped into — what are we saving it for anyway?
Create a range of housing opportunities and choices. Translation: Not everybody wants to live in a 3,000 SF house with a giant yard and a two-car garage. And even if they wanted to, most people can’t afford it.
Create walkable communities. Translation: People want to walk to interesting places safely. Key words interesting and safe. Ask yourself which one-mile walk you would prefer: a) Strolling along a tree-lined sidewalk until you reach a pleasant park; or b) Walking down a mile of hot asphalt lined with ranch houses that look exactly like your own.
Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place. Translation: An Applebee’s in New England should look different from a Applebee’s in New Mexico. And the one in Beaufort should not look like the one we have, but it does because Highway 21 is what it is. Thus the Boundary Street Master Plan.
Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas. Translation: Encourage rural landowners to place conservation easements on their property, or ask them to work with preservation programs that will pay them the current appraised value for their land. If the landowners won’t sell because they think the current appraised value is too low, mock them publicly.
Strengthen and direct development toward existing communities. Translation: Don’t put more grocery stores and restaurants and hotels and residential subdivisions on farmland out in the nether regions. Put curbs, gutters and sidewalks in places like Higginsonville (the area behind the city’s new government center) to allow greater density and intensity of use. Hold the hands of people in Pigeon Point, Spanish Point, Hundred Pines and Mossy Oaks and help them stay calm as they get used to the idea that they’re next.
Provide a variety of transportation choices. Translation: Let’s try an analogy: Beef is to cars as chicken and fish are to buses and bikes. Shouldn’t we want our transportation systems to contain at least as many choices as the menu at Burger King.
Make development decisions fair, predictable and cost effective. Translation: Uh……..fair? I don’t want to go there. What one person considers perfectly fair can be seen by the next person as the greed-stoked flame of ill-gotten windfall profits. But what they mean is don’t make exceptions. Don’t make variances. Don’t jerk people around with layers of bureaucracy. Condense the simple stuff into a checklist. For the complex stuff, create a flowchart, preferably in PDF format that can be downloaded. Make sure staff can give consistent answers to questions.
As far as cost effectiveness, I’ll save that for another day. The tradeoff is that the public’s best interest costs developers too much money. And what’s in the developers’ best interest costs the taxpayers too much money.
Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions. Translation: Get involved in the comprehensive plan that is going on right now. Every development decision that comes along is driven by that plan. If the project doesn’t go by that plan, elected officials are authorized to change the plan.
It’s in your best interest to help shape what goes into the plan, and to keep an eye on changes as they occur over the years.
To get started now, keep your eye on the Beaufort Gazette. They do a great job of publishing meeting times. Then it’s up to you. You have to pay attention and write the info in your calendar, and get yourself there.
It sounds so microcosmic but it’s true. It takes individual planning to make it to the planning meetings in order to do community planning.
That’s it. Plan to plan.