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Expert says zoning not always the answer

June 19, 2007|by DAVE McMILLION

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Businesses with so-called "big box" stores, which sometimes draw the ire of people over fears of what they will do to a local economy, are not doing anything wrong when they set up shop, an expert on land planning said Monday.

The companies are simply following laws that allow for such development, said Chad Emerson, an expert on the SmartCode approach of land use.

A daylong meeting was held Monday at the Shepherdstown Men's Club, allowing local residents, land-use planners and government officials to learn more about the SmartCode approach.

The meeting came about because Shepherdstown Town Council member Neal Martineau was impressed with the community of Seaside, Fla., and as a result discovered the SmartCode approach, said John Mathews, Shepherdstown's zoning officer.

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According to the SmartCode Web site, the approach shows cities and developers how they can seize on benefits like quality of life, economic opportunity and environmental stewardship.

Although zoning is looked at as a way to create attractive communities, zoning laws are often the cause of urban sprawl, said Emerson, who is also associated with the Faulker University - Jones School of Law in Montgomery, Ala.

Zoning was used to keep offensive uses out of communities but zoning laws ended up separating most land uses, Emerson said. As a result, allowing business and residential use in buildings - which can result in vibrant communities - is illegal in many instances, Emerson said.

"Things spiraled out of control," Emerson said.

Emerson said governments need to set new rules that change the pace of development.

Large commercial stores often are associated with urban sprawl but Emerson showed how the stores can be integrated into communities where they can easily be reached by walking from nearby neighborhoods.

Attending Monday's meeting were Bob Reynolds, Ed Dunleavy and Jefferson County Commissioner Jim Surkamp, who are members of the Jefferson County Planning Commission.

County commissioners are reviewing the county's land-use regulations and have hired the firm of Kendig Keast Collaborative to rewrite the county's zoning regulations.

Kendig Keast officials have said the county's current land-use laws have not been effective in managing urban and suburban growth or protecting agricultural areas.

Dunleavy said pinpointing the cause of urban sprawl is not as simple as it might seem.

The problem with Jefferson County's zoning laws is that they are vague, which has allowed government officials to make different interpretations of them, Dunleavy said.

Kendig Keast officials are working to make the county's zoning laws more predictable, Dunleavy said. Kendig Keast officials also proposed that residential areas be clustered to save more open space, Dunleavy said.

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