OPINION The voice of the Eastside: Balance is the key to quality of life in growing region


by Mike Flynn
Eastside Journal

Washington State - No recount needed here. Everyone agrees: The population of Washington is continuing to grow. Even people who think that's a bad thing recognize that families are having children and people are coming here to live and work. The state's Office of Financial Management says growing families and other new residents will add about one million to our population by 2010.

The question is not whether or not to grow, but how we wish to grow.

The Growth Management Act is the tool the Legislature has given us, but it is only a tool - and only as effective as those who wield it. That's why Realtors are rolling up their sleeves and pitching in to use the GMA process to build better communities.

The Washington Association of Realtors has launched The Quality of Life Project to help our members adopt a leadership role in growth planning in every community in our state. We will use positive action and constructive criticism to promote economic growth, improve housing opportunities and enhance the quality of life in our communities.

The project proposes that community plans should balance three key considerations.

The first is that we must ensure a strong economy that creates good jobs, expands the tax base, promotes economic diversity and revitalizes communities. The second is that every citizen should be able to find a safe, decent and affordable home near where they work, shop and play. The third is that we must recognize the importance of parks, open space and the environment to our quality of life.

Communities planning under the GMA will have to update their comprehensive plans over the next five years. We believe that Realtors -- who talk each day with people who want to make their home in Washington -- are ideally positioned to understand how people want Washington communities to grow.

To back up that grassroots knowledge we have conducted research that asks residents to identify the highest priorities in their communities, what they considered the most important factors surrounding growth and how they feel about growth.

Washington residents have told us that ``traffic,'' not ``growth,'' is the major concern. Safe neighborhoods and good schools are top priorities. Housing costs are too high, particularly for first-time homebuyers. Indeed, recent tracking surveys indicate, for the first time, that housing affordability surpasses education and crime concerns. Spiraling housing costs only drive our own children away to look for jobs and housing.

There is strong support for parks, open space and sidewalks. Further, people tell us that both our environment and private property owners must be protected.

Realtors care about the planning process because we work in the communities where we live, play and send our kids to school. Just like our neighbors, we want good schools and parks, safe neighborhoods, a strong economy, good transportation and housing choices.

Perhaps the most important step we all can take is to hold ourselves accountable to the goals of our comprehensive plans and to strive for a balance in providing the elements of community so important in our daily lives. By taking careful inventory of current land uses, resources and needs, we can then consider whether our plan balances area job opportunities with homes for the people who take those jobs. When we put homes near the workplace, we reduce commute times and increase the time we have to spend at home and in the community.

Cities and counties also should ensure that sewer, water and roads are in place for residential, commercial and industrial development. If we prepare the way, industry will follow and bring the jobs we need to our communities.

As we plan to accommodate growth, we also must determine strategies to restore the economic vitality that the Northwest enjoyed for the better part of the last two decades. Any plans for growth must address this region's critical need for homes - built where they are needed. And we must protect the natural heritage that makes the Northwest the envy of the nation. If we think ahead and plan carefully and creatively, we can create vibrant communities for living and working.

Mike Flynn is president-elect and vice president for governmental affairs for the Washington Association of Realtors.


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