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Environmental master plans take regional view

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One hundred years ago, communities could make relatively independent economic development decisions without concern for the impact those decisions would have on their neighbors.

Today, the reality of suburban living, as municipal boundaries expand and merge, is that local land use and development decisions will impact other communities. Planning for the placement and regulation of transportation infrastructure, industrial parks, businesses, housing developments and green spaces cannot be considered from a strictly local perspective.

Witness, for example, the number of local land-use and development decisions made 100 years ago that created environmental problems still plaguing us today. The concept of a workable environmental master plan exists at this nexus between regional need to protect the environment and local desire to promote and maintain economic development.

Still, the reality that local land-use decision-making may have unacceptable regional environmental impacts conflicts with our belief in the sanctity of local land-use control. Our society subscribes to the idea that democratically elected local officials should have the ability to make decisions about the future of the communities they represent.

Making changes that threaten this traditional autonomy can be difficult and dangerous. One possible strategy to deal with this problem is the creation of regional entities with broader scopes of authority.

In New York, for example the state legislature, recognizing the need for comprehensive regional land-use planning, passed the Hudson River Valley Greenway Act, which designated 10 counties as a regional planning entity and established a government agency to assist and oversee the development of the plan.

But is more government the solution?

More government emerges as the solution only if control is the fundamental approach to solving the problems associated with economic development, environmental protection and intergovernmental relations.

Government reinvention, on the other hand, is a strategy built on the idea that we can do more with less government. Streamlining, partnering, deregulating and outsourcing are the new approaches to public problems.

These innovative approaches to governing, which have the power to build consensus rather than generate resistance, are possible because public entities are finding new ways to use and deliver information.

With regard to environmental protection and economic development, tremendous benefits may be realized if local land-use decision makers have ready access to comprehensive, reliable sources of information.

What is environmental master planning? The objective of environmental master planning is to build a platform for the delivery of reliable environmental and land-use information to support local decision-making. Its fundamental concept is that most residents and government officials will make decisions that support regional values if confronted with quality information and useable mechanisms for resolving environmental/economic development conflicts.

Thus, environmental master plans are built on stakeholder consensus regarding community values and goals, quality of life, environmental protection and economic development issues.

Environmental master planning also celebrates governmental diversity. Most approaches to comprehensive land-use planning, for example, call for local governments to concede some components of their planning systems to an umbrella agency or special district government. Thus, consistency is created through governmental conformity.

Environmental master planning, on the other hand, seeks to support the diversity of institutional capacities among governments by providing a tool kit for environmental protection programming and land use decision-making that various public agencies can use to develop consensus and uniformity regarding economic goals and environmental policy.

These tools are essential, since few Missouri villages have the authority or political will to address their problems in the same ways that home-rule cities or first-class, noncharter counties can.

The Process. The process is perhaps the most important aspect of environmental master planning, because it brings stakeholders together. A bottom-up, partnership approach to governing helps communities organize and builds relationships through communication and sharing of ideas.

Although the environmental master planning process is complex, it has several fundamental components:

?Forming partnerships through citizen and intergovernmental coalitions[[In-content Ad]]

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