Sunday, March 26, 2006

Time for Planning In Washington County Is Now!

Lots of attention being paid to Washington County as of late. It started with the acknowledgement that this county is among the five fastest growing counties in the nation. Anyone who has been to St. George and surroundings in the last few years could readily attest to this -- the place looks like a part of the Wasatch Front, only with red rock surroundings (and nicer golf courses!)

Next the announcement (see also here) of a broad-based plan for public lands in Washington County. It's nice to finally see a positive, pro-active approach to dealing with the largest landholder in many areas of the state, where growth and the status of the federal lands often come into conflict. A few years ago, the state tried funding development of county general plans so that the residents of the county could have a formal say in the planning for the public lands in that county. While there was some modest success with that approach, it seems what was just unveiled in Washington County (based on plans done recently in two Nevada counties) is a much better way to go.

This morning's DesNews (be sure to click on related stories listed in the left-hand sidebar) focuses considerable attention on growth in Washington County.

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, however, after taking a look at the proposal, doesn't like it. That's fine, because from what I read the plan is not yet finalized, with public meetings scheduled to receive more input. SUWA warns, though, that they are prepared to fight the plan. This, I have come to learn, usually means that if they don't get just what they think it should be (forget about no one else getting exactly everything they want, either), then it's off to court!

What all this tells me is that it is high time for some coordinated, broad-based planning for the Washington County region. I think planners there have been trying hard, but as has been the case for years on the Wasatch Front, planners generally are so overwhelmed with just keeping up with the exploding development process, there isn't much time left over to do the broader visioning and planning.

The federal lands plan recently unveiled is probably a good example of how some of this broader visioning and planning can and should occur. A similar process should take place now for all lands in Washington County.

It is my understanding that leaders in southwest Utah have been considering making use of the Envision Utah process that was used along the Wasatch Front nearly ten years ago. I would encourage folks there to move ahead with this idea. It is not the plans and principles that would be simply taken down to the St. George area -- it is the process that Envision Utah used with such great success that would be helpful. Recall the numerous public workshops where thousands of residents and leaders sat at tables with chips representing growth, and everyone expressing their thoughts on how growth should occur. This then led to scenarios and eventually the expression of desired growth principles.

Washington County could develop their own "vision" of how they want to grow using the Envision Utah process. Why shouldn't people in our own backyard do so, when this tool is now being used to great success in many other areas of the country?

Go for it, Washington County. It sounds like an idea whose time has come for you -- plan before what attracted you to red rock country in the first place is all gone.


At 8:02 PM, Blogger google_PEAK_OIL said...

I hope that those planning for future development in Washington County take into account what the consequences of a permanent energy crisis would be. It takes a lot of electricity to run all those air conditioners and pump water from distant water projects to a desert environment. It takes a lot of gasoline and diesel to bring in food, consumer products, and building supplies from far away, and to remain mobile in a sprawlscape that offers no viable alternative to cars.

And what happens to the auto and aircraft dependent tourist industry in a time of exhorbitant fuel prices ,or worse, rationing? What happens to the building and real estate industries when the rising costs of living in desert suburbia become prohibitive? What happens to the market value of the existing homes? What happens to the homeowners who become trapped in giant mortgages when their homes lose the large hallucinated portion of their value?

I think anyone now investing or considering investing in real estate in Washington county or elswhere in the desert southwest should wake up and smell the coffee.


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