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The Daily Tar Heel

Lawmakers Prepare Proposals Addressing Growth Issues

The committee members will present several proposals, including creating regional committees to oversee development, giving local school boards veto power over new developments and preserving the state's undeveloped land.

But some Republican legislators are arguing that the committee's proposals will only increase government bureaucracy and make it harder for families to afford housing.

But before the General Assembly, which reconvenes Wednesday, can review the proposals, committee co-chairmen, Sen. Howard Lee and Rep. Joe Hackney, both Democrats from Orange County, must meet and prioritize the committee's goals. "There's an awful lot of information," Lee said.

He also said there were several difficulties to wrangle with, including turning the proposals into legislative bills and incorporating proposals into already-existing ideas. Lee pointed out that most committee members would like to see some undeveloped farmland preserved. "The question is: How does this tie into Gov. Hunt's million acres proposal?" he said.

Only weeks before his term ended, former Gov. Jim Hunt proposed that a million acres in the state be preserved from development.

But Hunt's proposal was not funded last year and the committee's recommendation might run into problems due to the state's $486 million budget deficit.

And the move to give school boards veto power, which the Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro boards of education approved recently, also might run into trouble this legislative session.

Sen. Virginia Foxx, R-Alleghany, said there were already more building regulations than she believed necessary.

"I don't think we need to have people jumping through any new hoops," Foxx said. "We don't need to be adding to the cost of housing."

She said forcing developers to go before another committee was unrealistic -- especially when county commissioners had a wide latitude of power over growth. Foxx also questioned if development was as pressing a problem as some committee members think.

"I would be happy to consider new rules if someone would show me a real problem -- not one they think exists."

But Statesville Mayor John Marshall, who is also a member of the Smart Growth Committee, said rapid growth was very much an issue in his town.

Statesville, located near Charlotte, is the county seat of Iredell County, one of the state's fastest growing regions.

Marshall said unmanaged growth could destroy a community's identity.

"You've got to protect your neighborhoods and downtown, or you could lose them," he said, adding that Statesville used zoning and historic neighborhoods to prevent such an event.

Marshall said it is essential to establish planning committees that would manage growth -- focusing it in certain areas and making sure infrastructure like roads and water are not overwhelmed. "It will be important for communities like Statesville to give up some of our local control and face the bigger picture," he said. "In the future, planning officials are going to have to step back and ask, are these projects consistent with smart growth principles and good for the community?"

The State & National Editor can be reached at stntdesk@unc.edu.

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