High growth target makes most sense

  • By George Nickle
  • Friday, July 23, 2004 9:00pm
  • Opinion

Currently, our elected officials are considering future growth plans for Snohomish County. The three options they are considering include one no-growth plan, one minimal-growth plan, and one maximum-growth plan that would also allow for consideration of fully contained communities.

You can’t hit a target if you don’t know where to aim. That’s the goal of establishing population targets for our state’s communties: realistic planning for growth. If we choose accurate growth forecasts and plan well, growth can improve the quality of life for everyone.

Some may choose a low target because they believe our population has increased enough, thank you very much. But choosing a low target won’t prevent people from moving here and it won’t stop families in our community from growing. That’s why it’s important to determine which target is most accurate. We cannot choose whether to grow. But we can plan how our communities will take advantage of the prosperity wise growth planning can bring.

Some communities fall into the trap of thinking that they can choose how much to grow. They are communities that failed to anticipate growth and are now struggling with the results of poor planning – from traffic congestion to scarce housing. Crossing our fingers and hoping for low growth means we risk being unprepared. If our community gets more growth than we’re ready for, the results won’t be pretty: sky-high housing prices, traffic congestion, environmental degradation and poor housing choices will be a few of the consequences. New businesses and homes will spill out to rural lands, farms and forests. In fact, most of the negative things people associate with growth are really tied to bad growth planning. Planning for unrealistically low population growth doesn’t mean the growth won’t come. It just means we won’t be ready when it does.

There is a danger to not growing at all. Communities that do not grow may be unable to attract new investment. With less investment, the quality of life begins to deteriorate. That’s especially a problem for a community where incomes are already lower than average, where jobs are scarce and where people have to drive long distances to get work. Communities that reject population growth may push population and development where we least want it: in environmentally sensitive areas and rural lands. When few people come to a community, the tax burden is greater for taxpayers who must support schools, road maintenance and other public services.

The truth is, 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.

To avoid the consequences of under-planning, we should plan for the upper range growth targets. This will help ensure our community effectively plans to provide for adequate jobs, housing and public services over the next 20 years. Of course, while the market will ultimately determine where growth will occur, by planning for the higher growth target, we’ll prepare our community for the most likely growth scenario.

The higher growth target will also help us address an alarming shortage of housing inventory in Snohomish County. We are currently facing a dangerously low supply of available housing. It is this low inventory that is causing a rapid escalation of housing prices in Snohomish County, and is responsible for a shortage of affordable housing. To ensure that our housing prices do not continue to follow the same pattern as King County, we need to provide a growth target that provides a boost to our available housing inventory.

The key to making growth a positive force is to plan effectively for it. We are perfectly capable of planning for healthy growth and development. Our County Council has shown great leadership throughout this process, and local elected officials, community planners, businesses and residents can work together to 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. By determining the most realistic, accurate growth target, we can prepare to prosper with new jobs, new neighbors, and new housing opportunities.

Then, as families grow and business thrives, we will be able to support and improve our quality of life.

George Nickle of Mill Creek is president of the Snohomish County-Camano Association of Realtors.

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