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Smart growth touted at forum

November 21, 2000

Smart growth touted at forum



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - People in communities can work together to achieve "smart growth" instead of passively letting sprawl eat up their land and increase their government budgets, Steve Lerner, an author who has studied growth-related issues, said Monday at a forum on growth.

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Lerner, who works in Washington, D.C., for the Commonwealth Sustainable Futures Project, said smart growth is putting development where systems such as sewer, water and roads already exist to handle it.

Providing areas of open space while growth is occurring is another way in which growth can be handled wisely, as is clustering development around undeveloped land, he said. The concept can be embraced by more people than environmentalists, he said.

"It makes economic sense," Lerner told about 75 people who attended the forum on smart growth at the Apollo Civic Theater. "It's not a question of whether we have development or no development, but whether we have smart development or dumb development."

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Community leaders and citizens working together can bring back a dormant downtown area, he said.

"A lot of clever things can be done if the political will is there," he said. That will is created by a citizenry concerned enough about its community to get involved, he said.

Smart growth "happens in a community where people get together," he said. "We have to go out there and get to the meetings and come up with a vision for the community."

A panel backed up much of what Lerner said.

Developer Bruce Van Wyck said smart growth makes smart economic sense because people will want to come to an area if it offers a good quality of life.

"Quality of life is important to recruitment efforts," of companies luring employees, Van Wyck said.

Ray Johnston a developer responsible for The Woods resort, said he's been preaching smart growth for 30 years. But he told the audience he fears control has already been lost locally.

"We think we'd like to control growth of the Eastern Panhandle, but we've lost control of the process," he said. If Berkeley County didn't approve another subdivision for 10 years, the ones that have been platted and are on the books would greatly increase the population.

He agreed that the creeping sprawl of one house after the other is more expensive than the huge, highly visible developments.

"Growth tends to be an incremental disease," added Lerner. "That's the problem with not having a plan or consensus."

Berkeley County has no zoning - residents and public officials have rejected it over the years. But it is a major tool to handle the growth, he said.

Lerner said people have to work together or lose what they have.

"If a community cares enough ... then you have the beginning of a public consensus to pursue some of these smart growth techniques," he said.

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