Gov. Jennifer Granholm is expected to take a dramatic step toward containing suburban sprawl in Michigan this week, creating a Smart Growth Commission to propose policies to regulate land use and curb environmental contamination. Former Gov. William Milliken and former state Attorney General Frank Kelley will likely lead the commission.

Paul Wong

Suburban sprawl and uncontrolled development were issues in Michigan politics during November’s elections, and the establishment of the commission was a major promise of Granholm’s campaign.

“The governor wants to strike a balance between development and environmental protection. She doesn’t think that one should come before the other, but that they should work together to make Michigan a better place to live and work,” Granholm spokeswoman Mary Dettloff said.

Environmental agencies have criticized past administrations for failing to address a growing environmental crisis resulting from sprawl.

“Until the election of Granholm, the state government has maintained that sprawl was not a significant problem, that it was confined to local government and that the state was not in a position to do anything about it,” said Keith Schneider, program director for the Michigan Land Use Institute.

Ann Arbor legislators are stressing the importance of the commission in improving Michigan’s economy and maintaining its natural resources.

“The protection of farm land should be a priority for the people of Michigan,” state Sen. Liz Brater (D-Ann Arbor) said. “We need ways to make use of existing urban areas, which would revitalize our cities as well as protect our farmland. (The commission) will be influential in raising the profile of the issue.”

State Rep. Chris Kolb (D-Ann Arbor) said he shared Brater’s sentiments, noting that by failing to address land use issues, the state would augment its economic concerns.

Kolb has proposed legislation in the state House regarding the need for clearer guidelines on land use and was adamant in his support of the Smart Growth Commission.

“I think that when you don’t have general land use programs you add to the costs of the state. When we have urban areas that already have the infrastructure necessary for development, it doesn’t make sense to build that infrastructure where it doesn’t already exist,” Kolb said.

The expected appointments of Milliken, a Republican, and Kelley, a Democrat, are also garnering support for Granholm’s proposals.

“They’re two very prominent leaders who have demonstrated their love of Michigan and its resources. It’s a bipartisan approach which is important in the current political environment,” Brater said.

Many state businesses are also optimistic about potential changes in land use policy and their effect on the economy, as industries such as agriculture, tourism and forestry would all benefit from limited rural development.

Officials from the Michigan Chamber of Commerce said that Michigan business is not likely to suffer as a result of land use restrictions.

“I think land use legislation could potentially help businesses,” said MCOC director of environmental and regulatory affairs Doug Roberts Jr. “Improving the quality of life here would attract new workers. It could be a win-win situation for everybody,” MCOC

The MLUI and other environmental advocates are praising the measure as a dramatic victory for the citizens of Michigan.

“This is one of the most important issues for significantly improving Michigan’s economic status and quality of life,” Schneider said. “The Smart Growth Commission is vital. This is a sea change for the state of Michigan.”

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