Good First Step To Ease Urban Sprawl

March 15, 2004
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Grand Valley Metro Council is beginning one of its most fundamental discussions and stands to lead the way in the State of Michigan in regard to regional land use policies. Metro Council will hold a charrette in conjunction with the Land Conservancy of West Michigan to identify green spaces that might be preserved in the Kent County area. Similar discussions will be held in Holland and Muskegon, arranged through the West Michigan Strategic Alliance.

These discussions begin as the Governor’s Land Use Leadership Council issues its final report with more than 100 recommendations. Former Gov. William Milliken and former State Attorney General Frank Kelley co-chaired the statewide hearings and oversaw the final recommendations.

Many of the issues to be discussed by the regional agencies are identified in the state council’s recommendations, and indeed, many came from West Michigan leaders — including developers who lent considerable expertise along with very frank discussion of consumer demand and market driven decisions.

Michigan residents overwhelmingly show support for the protection of this Great Lakes state’s environmental assets, but are slow to understand that such concerns include their own backyards. Education efforts must accompany any future recommendations coming from the charrettes. Grand Valley Metro Council plans to develop a “tool kit” to assist local units of government in creating a natural features inventory within respective political boundaries. Its Regional Geographic Information System will map that inventory. For each governmental unit to become aware of and take pride in these natural features is a key first step toward cooperative efforts. One can only wish the inventory was already complete, as the South Beltline construction progresses toward its 2005 opening date.

It is especially heartening that this planning and ability to address the Governor’s Council recommendations is the result of a partnership. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation provided a grant to The Land Conservancy, which in turn is paying Metro Council for the REGIS mapping work.

The Home & Building Association of Greater Grand Rapids last week also issued its position on the Governor’s Council recommendations, often reiterating its opposition to Purchase of Development Rights and Transfer of Development Rights. Such opposition, however, does not answer with alternatives to the very real problems associated with both programs. HBAGGR did lend its “strong support” to reviews of regulatory barriers that add to home-buying costs, new standards for more narrow residential roadways and rights-of-way and other enhancements for community design.

The discussion is only beginning, especially as it comes to local units of government. But it is a long anticipated beginning, and one that sets West Michigan’s foot squarely on the path toward addressing what is fast becoming horrific urban sprawl.    

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