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Will we walk the Envision walk?

It is one thing for Utahns to say they want better air quality. It is quite another to decide how to go about reducing pollution.

How many residents will be willing to work from home to keep their car and its emissions off the road?How many employers will allow it?

How many people will ride the bus or rail?

How many politicians will push policies or state incentives that have these goals?

The partnership that makes up Envision Utah has spent more than two years talking "growth" talk -- now it is time to see who is willing to walk the walk toward solutions to growth-related concerns.

After hundreds of town meetings, reams of public surveys, hours of analysis, presentation and debate, Envision Utah has entered another stage in its development.

"We've always said at some point we will become advocates of a growth strategy," said Stephen Holbrook, head of the Coalition for Utah's Future, Envision Utah's parent group.

They aren't there yet, but this is a "beginning point," Holbrook said Friday.

The group is stepping out of its role as an objective voice and educator on the state's growth issues and taking its first cautious steps toward support for what will be called "Utah's Quality Growth Strategy."

On its way, Envision Utah will begin to suggest answers to the question: What tangible steps can we take to improve air quality, housing choices, water resources and efficiency in transportation?

Formed in January 1997, Envision Utah is a public and private community partnership devoted to studying the effects of long-term growth along the Wasatch Front. Gov. Mike Leavitt is Envision Utah's honorary co-chairman and has supported the group, which includes landowners and conservationists, business leaders, elected officials, educators and a bevy of community representatives.

In April, members of the Envision Utah partnership met to determine which growth-related issues should be addressed.

Developers, bankers, mayors, planners, religious leaders, government officials and members of the community huddled in small groups, debating the merits or drawbacks of certain philosophies and goals.

They charted answers to discussions such as:

Is it important for transportation choices to promote mobility or is it equally important for the transportation choices to be accessible? Partners said yes.

Maybe it is important to buy rights to the paths that could carry rail in the future, but do we have to build rail immediately? Partners said no.

This weekend, Envision Utah released results of the workshop.

"The report clearly indicates a preference for non-coercive strategies and high-tech and incentive based-options carried out locally whenever possible," said Jon Huntsman Jr., the new chairman for Envision Utah.

The results can be considered an early, untested draft of the group's Quality Growth Strategy, Huntsman said.

This "strategy" will present solutions toward several goals associated with growth. How to:

Preserve open space and agricultural land.

Enhance air quality.

Conserve and maintain water resources.

Support economic development and job opportunities for future residents.

Promote mobility and transportation choices.

Make efficient infrastructure investments.

Provide housing for diverse incomes and families.

Information from recent town meetings and analysis will be considered before Envision Utah prepares the final growth strategy late next fall or early winter, Huntsman said.

A few main themes emerged in the report, Holbrook said.

The first was the number of times support surfaced for working from home. Support also was recurring for walkable and transit-oriented communities.

In the exercise, partners had to look at a statement, discuss it and tweak the statement or "strategy" to suit whatever change or clarification on which the group of 10 agreed.

For example, in a discussion about water resources, participants took the strategy statement: "Encourage conservation" and modified it to read: "Restructure water bills to encourage conservation."

The report shows the most popular concepts and strategies were those with the broadest scope. Partners said they liked the idea of "compact development," "walkable and mixed-use communities" and "transit-oriented development," but they did not like impositions of higher costs on driving or limited flexibility in automobile use.

Participants consistently rejected philosophies that "required," "mandated" or "implemented" -- preferring instead softer philosophies that offered to "promote," "foster" and "encourage."

The exercise served two purposes, Holbrook said. It indicated how receptive people are to certain strategies, and it served as a model of how solutions to growth-related issues will occur in communities.

The report includes the following noteworthy sentiments as expressed by the majority of workshop participants:

Foster wise and efficient use of water through incentives and market strategies.

Implement odd/even water days.

Merge the Utah Department of Transportation and Utah Transit Authority.

Redefine UDOT's mission to include more than highway building.

Establish development elevation caps.

The majority eliminated concepts that suggested the following:

Assessing fines for inefficient watering.

A reduction in public investment for roads and maintenance.

An increase in parking fees around popular destinations.

A gas guzzler tax on inefficient vehicles.

In recent months, Envision Utah staff and leaders have maintained an unfettered countenance under accusations of bias toward a pro-growth-planning agenda.

Some have charged the group pushed a preferred "scenario" for growth that included more compact housing, less land consumption and more transportation choices. But the group has countered these charges with data and results of a citizen survey that supported these scenarios.

"In the end," Holbrook said, "the Envision Utah partnership will have to be reasonably cutting-edge."