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Learning about ‘Smart Growth’

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By Terry Hagerty – Contributing writer/photographer

Realtors, officials gather at Convention Center

A group of business and governmental leaders gathered at the Bastrop Convention Center on Oct. 29 for a seminar on “Smart Growth for the 21st Century.” It was presented by John Rosshirt, a co-owner at Stanberry & Associates (Austin), and was sponsored by the Bastrop County Board of Realtors and the Bastrop Economic Development Corporation. Participants at the five-hour conference, which included many local Realtors, discussed such items as creating “walkable communities” and “embracing the private sector” to help support smart growth.
Smart Growth Presenter John Rosshirt speaks with Smithville City Manager Robert Tamble. (Terry Hagerty Photography)Zia Lowe, a Realtor with RE/MAX Bastrop, said she was glad to see such a varied turnout for the seminar. “It’s nice to see not only Realtors here, but also city and economic development officials,” Lowe said. She added that the varied group offered a broader range of opinions for discussion items. Some of the participants from surrounding communities included Smithville City Manager Robert Tamble. Two local economic development officials attended the event: Shawn Kirkpatrick, Bastrop Economic Development Coordinator executive director, and Joe Newman, Elgin Economic Development executive director, as well as Bastrop City Council member Gary Schiff.
Rosshirt – a proven veteran of such presentations – combined plenty of information with personal insights since he has lived in several parts of the U.S., including Austin. He started off the meeting by having participants consider what the definition of Smart Growth might encompass, and added, “If there were one quick easy answer – we would have been done already (today).” He added two further comments: That what might be smart growth for one community could be “totally irrelevant” for another community; and that at the end of the seminar the participants would likely arrive at multiple answers to the question, “What is it you want to be seen done” in the Bastrop area? Participants were closely studying the “10 Principles of Smart Growth” including: Preserve Open Space, Farmland and Natural Beauty; Provide a Variety of Transportation Choices; Create a Range of Housing Opportunities; and Create Walkable Neighborhoods.
Rosshirt presented current and former examples of smart-growth communities, including the post-World War II development at Levittown (Long Island), New York, which is considered the nation’s first planned residential community. “This was a very simple development,” Rosshirt remarked, adding that Levittown – composed of a string of small housing tracts in a compacted development with laid-out streets – helped meet a large housing demand in the wake of veterans coming home from war.Participants in a break-out group discuss Smart Growth principles. (Terry Hagerty Photography)
At one point Rosshirt said it was important for participants to “look at the motivation of who’s speaking” when it comes to any smart-growth discussions, whether those speakers be transportation, environmental or other officials. After lunch, participants broke into small discussion groups to apply the 10 Smart Growth Principles. Among some of the questions they considered, and then shared with the overall group, were:  “Which of the ten smart growth principles would make the most difference for qualify of life?” and which of the principles “would make the most difference for economic development?” Bastrop City Council member Gary Schiff responded to a previous comment from a participant who had said that higher education for Bastrop – such as the Austin Community College campus already established in Elgin – was crucial. Schiff concurred, saying higher education “is where economic development will come from.” Towards the end, Rosshirt said it was “impossible to do all these” – referring to the 10 Smart Growth principles, then quickly added that unless planning “touches on” all 10 principles, “I’m not going to call it Smart Growth.”