Do we need a ‘Southern Strategy?’

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 20, 2005

When Suffolk adopted something called a managed-growth policy in the late 1990s, it was cutting edge stuff, at least in Virginia.

The plan came under attack from many quarters, mainly the shelter industry, which shielded its desire to overbuild, destroy open space, and stress infrastructure and resources to make a bunch of money under the guise of defending &uot;private-property rights.&uot;

Money was poured into General Assembly campaigns to make sure the &uot;right&uot; to, in effect, devastate communities was maintained, a strategy that has pretty much worked.

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Now, it appears, the tide could be turning. Faced with a real transportation crisis, and what has become a fanatical devotion to not increase taxes under any circumstances, politicians are beginning to see the light Suffolk officials saw nearly a decade ago.

Beginning with Governor-elect Tim Kaine’s public utterances about linking land-use planning and transportation policy to the senate task force on transportation, it’s clear that policymakers are realizing an out exists that will allow them to address vital transportation issues while keeping the tax impact as minimal as possible.

Managed growth, smart growth and what planners are now calling &uot;focused growth&uot; in Suffolk, are strategies to increase residential and commercial density in certain areas. The idea is to preserve beautiful open space, while reducing the need for people to take to the highways, because in theory most of what they need – schools, church, work, shopping – are within walking distance, or at least a short drive, and create opportunities to utilize mass transportation.

Taking cars off the highways reduces road maintenance and construction costs to taxpayers and it’s more environmentally friendly to boot.

Last week, representatives from URS Corporation and the city’s planning department presented city council members with a growth plan for consideration for adoption in the city’s updated comprehensive plan, that maintains and improves the smart-growth strategy Suffolk has adopted.

Despite political pressure from some on council to relax its commitment, we urge officials to stick to their guns. The decisions they make now will impact Suffolk residents for generations, and any retreat will open the door to negative impact on the quality of life.

Most on city council seem to be of the opinion that some sort of &uot;Southern Strategy&uot; is necessary to encourage growth south of the downtown area and seem to be leaning toward recommendations that are going to cost taxpayers in excess of $60 million, as well as further clog downtown area roads.

Officials need to convince the public that this &uot;Southern Strategy&uot; is necessary and not just a bone being thrown to a couple of council members.

If a strategy for controlling growth and containing sprawl was important in Suffolk in late 1990s – and it was – it’s even more important now. At a time when the rest of the state is catching up, Suffolk shouldn’t be retreating.