Growth panel to meet at last

Delay marked legislative initiative

Staff WriterApril 2, 2004 

After more than two years of delay, a legislative committee formed to help local governments deal with growth and development will meet for the first time today.

The General Assembly created the 12-member Growth Strategies Oversight Committee to follow the work of a "smart growth" commission that spent most of 2000 studying ways the state could better deal with growth. In late 2001, the commission made dozens of recommendations on issues such as traffic, open space and housing.

The commission's efforts were closely watched in the Triangle, but little came of them. The General Assembly put aside talk of managing growth to focus on the state's slack economy and budget problems.

Today's meeting of the growth oversight committee in Raleigh signals a change, said Cara Crisler, executive director of the N.C. Smart Growth Alliance, a coalition of community, environmental and planning organizations based in Carrboro. The committee eventually will make recommendations to the legislature.

"It's wonderful news," Crisler said. "It's probably a sign that the legislature is seeing that growth is definitely here and that we have to help local communities deal with that growth."

Rep. Joe Hackney, a Chapel Hill Democrat who will help lead the new committee of House and Senate members, said the group does not yet have an agenda. Hackney said it may start by asking for status reports from local officials, builders, planners and environmentalists.

"We're going to look at what's happening with respect to growth in North Carolina and what the General Assembly can do," said Hackney, who also led the 2000 smart growth commission.

With the resignation of Sen. Wib Gulley of Durham last month, Hackney is the only oversight committee member from the Triangle.

The legislature formed the committee in late 2001. Senate leader Marc Basnight appointed several members a few months later, but House Speaker Jim Black waited more than a year until just before the appointments were set to expire. The committee disbanded before it ever met.

Basnight, Black and Republican House Speaker Richard Morgan made new appointments in recent months. The committee expires in January 2005.

Staff writer Richard Stradling can be reached at 829-4739 or at rstradli@newsobserver.com.

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