Growth, Land Use, Development, issues affecting you and your community regardless of where you live.

Mike Eliason is the Government Affairs Director for the Kitsap County Association of Realtors and a great asset to our organization. States, Cities and Counties are struggling with the issue of land use, growth and development across the United States. Though this article pertains to Washington State and Kitsap County you may find that it resonates with you and your area.

Be prepared and plan for our
state’s continuing growth
By Mike Eliason, Association Executive
Kitsap County
Association of REALTORS®

Washington’s population is on target to grow by a million people during this decade. In 2004 the growth in families — our friends’, neighbors’, and our own — accounted for more than half of the 88,000 new Washingtonians. The rest came here to take advantage of the Northwest’s legendary quality of life: a beautiful natural setting and the jobs and opportunity offered by an awakening economy. Protecting that quality of life should be among our highest priorities. There’s only one way to ensure growing population doesn’t erode Washington’s legacy: prepare now for the growth we know is coming.

The most important aspect of planning is making sure people will have a place to live, preferably near their workplace. Determining where people live also dictates how they — and the rest of us — will live. Families who cannot find homes close to work must commute. Adding commuters to the freeway doesn’t help air quality or freeway congestion. Commuters are less likely than residents to shop in local stores or eat in community restaurants. Because they spend so much time commuting, they are less likely to have time to volunteer in schools, churches, and local government.

Making sure people can find a home means ensuring a supply of homes that is diverse in location, price, and style. Some people want a garden and a lawn where the kids can play, while others prefer the freedom from chores that a condo offers. Some people prefer the peace and quiet of rural life to the hustle and bustle of living in the city. Still others need a flexible floor plan that can accommodate elderly relatives.

Big or little, urban or rural, expensive or modest, all homes require a fundamental ingredient: land. Creating homes means we must plan to make land available for use in the way that residents need it. We must allow consumers the maximum amount of flexibility possible in home styles and uses. That’s the best way to make the most efficient use of what little land is available for homes, and to create choices people want and need.

One of the aspects of new neighborhoods people say they want most is green space. Parks, lawns, and green borders to roads and walks help to create healthy and prosperous neighborhoods. Medical studies show that green space has a calming effect that can reduce stress, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Parks encourage people to go outside and exercise, which helps reduce obesity. Trees, bushes, and other plants cool us in hot weather, soak up rain water in the winter, and clean water by filtering run-off year ‘round.

Carefully planned growth also is good for our economic health. Growth and development are signs of a healthy community. A growing population helps support community services. That adds up to fewer costs to existing residents for services, such as parks, recreation, schools, and transportation. New residents in a community enhance the vitality of neighborhoods and commercial areas. New and expanding businesses mean more jobs and more choices for goods and services for everyone.

Some hope to stop growth by refusing somehow to admit it or recognize it. But tightening the lid on a boiling pot just guarantees we’ll all get burned when it boils over. Washington families are not expected to stop having children. And as long as our economy thrives, jobs and opportunity will lure new residents to our neighborhoods, our workplace, and our parks. Population will continue to grow and we must plan now to accommodate it in the most constructive way.

Closing our eyes to inevitable growth leaves us unprepared, and that hurts new and current residents alike. Traffic congestion, environmental degradation, economic stagnation and poor housing choices are just a few of the consequences. In fact, most of the negative things people associate with growth are really tied to poor growth planning. Hoping for no growth doesn’t mean the growth won’t come. It just means we won’t be ready when it does.

If elected officials, community planners, businesses, and residents work together we can ensure we have the open space, sidewalks, roads, and utilities our community needs. Jobs and homes should be prominent in plans for improving quality of life. We must encourage a variety of housing choices and provide opportunities for businesses to start up or expand. Then, as families grow and business thrives, we will be able to support and improve our quality of life.