The Virginia General Assembly has moved toward establishing a new panel to study growth in the state after home builders and rapidly growing counties failed to agree on legislation this year.

Growth has been a contentious issue in parts of the state in recent years as rapid sprawl has overwhelmed some areas, causing counties to seek more power from the state to regulate development.

The legislation, backed by key lawmakers and the Chamber of Commerce, would have a 14-member commission look for solutions. “Everyone has come to the table and said, ‘Let’s see if we can get along and see what we can do,’” said Del. Riley E. Ingram, R-Hopewell, a co-sponsor of the legislation.

According to recently released figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Inventory, Virginia is the 11th fastest growing state in the country.

Within Virginia’s portion of the Bay watershed, NRI figures show that about 567,000 acres were developed — almost 890 square miles — between 1982 and 1997. In fact, the watershed figures show that almost one-third of all Virginia land development that has taken place in the four centuries since Jamestown was settled occurred in that 15 year period.

The legislation establishing the Commission on Growth and Economic Development acknowledges that “the Commonwealth and its localities are challenged to develop strategies to promote sensible growth, reduce congestion, preserve open space, provide infrastructure in a timely manner as needed, and assure Virginians that they will have the ability to work, live and play in a healthy environment.”

But it said solutions need to be addressed comprehensively, not in “piecemeal legislation.” Final passage of the bill was pending as the Bay Journal went to press, but the bill had no major opposition. The commission is to make a report of its findings by Nov. 30.

The commission would include eight lawmakers and six citizens, including local government representatives.

The study would examine:

  • The adequacy of current revenue resources to meet existing and future infrastructure needs.
  • The revitalization of inner city areas and older suburbs to make more efficient use of existing infrastructure.
  • The redevelopment of abandoned or unused sites to improve the economic vitality of their communities.
  • Appropriate means of preserving both open space and individual property rights, as well as broad-based funding mechanisms for accomplishing preservation goals.

At least three legislative panels have studied growth in the past decade. Former Del. W. Tayloe Murphy Jr., D-Westmoreland, who led the most extensive of those studies, expressed skepticism that the new panel would be any more successful than previous efforts.

“I don’t hold out any hope for this new commission,” he told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “These are the same issues we have been talking about and talking about.”