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What the Heck Is LUTS and How Can It Save the Grand Traverse Region?Print

Thriving Communities | March 7, 2007 | By Jim Lively

You know that sinking feeling we get driving by our favorite orchard and seeing rows of new houses replacing cherry trees? Or when we shop at ugly, new, big-box stores for low prices even though we know we are helping to drive small, local stores out of business? Or when we find ourselves stuck in long lines of traffic just trying to get home for dinner—or take the kids to the beach?

LUTS—the Land Use and Transportation Study—can help us get rid of that feeling for good. LUTS may be an unfortunate acronym, but it stands for what will be the most important, sophisticated regional visioning and planning process Grand Traverse—or any other part of Michigan—has ever seen.

Hopefully, it will get a better, more memorable name when it finally gets rolling, because every citizen that cares about the Grand Traverse region needs to know about this historic opportunity to guide growth in our region for decades to come.

Lots of growth is coming to this area–lots. By 2020, the 5-county region will add 50,000 more residents to the more than 150,000 that live here today. If we don’t take our civic responsibility for community planning to heart, this place that we love so much (no one who lives here secretly wishes they could get out—except a few 17 year olds!) will lose its luster.

LUTS will allow us to figure out where to put the newcomers to the region without screwing up our beautiful home. It will invite us to collaborate as a region, instead of competing as isolated townships and villages. LUTS will map out future growth that is fiscally, socially and environmentally sound. Using cutting-edge technology, some of the nation’s leading community planning experts will help us look beyond fights about re-zonings, strip malls, and highway widenings and see the big picture.

LUTS will show us which community investments will lead to the growth we want; which will lead us to more new housing in cherry orchards, more big-box malls, and more lousy traffic; which areas we should preserve forever; and which areas we should develop.

Most importantly, though, LUTS will be profoundly democratic. It will remove the politics and decision-making power from local officials who may or may not get what the community really wants, and place it squarely in the hands of citizens who care enough about our region’s future to become actively involved “LUTS stakeholders.”

It’s pretty simple: The more people get involved, the better LUTS will work. Unless everyone contributes and sets the highest, best community standards, we will be left with merely the sum total of everyone’s self-interest—which looks a lot like South Airport Road or Chums Corners.

We can do better. With LUTS, we will, because it will be up to us.