Editor’s Note: Dan Staley, a frequent commenter on the Scorecard blog, will contribute an occasional column on land use and quality of life from Buckley, Washington, a small town near Mt. Rainier where Dan serves as planning director. This is his first post.

I bicycle a short 5-8 miles to work in Buckley every day, taking different routes through a beautiful pastoral landscape that is full of little surprises. For the past two weeks, I’ve been taking the same route to work and home, in order to see a small herd of elk hanging out on the north side of the White River. These elk are important indicators of Buckley’s future, and I want to be sure I get to know them—at least a little—as I help set the pattern for Buckley’s growth.

I’m the new planning director for Buckley, located in eastern Pierce County, Washington. Buckley’s current population is about 4500 people, all nestled in between the White River and the northern foothills of Mt. Rainier. Buckley also has the last flat land before you head up into the Cascades—and that is the crux of the future challenges we face, being within commutable distance of Seattle and Tacoma and their high-paying jobs.

  • The citizens of Buckley—like many in the Northwest—are unequivocal in their wish to maintain their quality of life. Folks moved out here to be under Mt. Rainier and to have open space all around—including space in their yards. However, land speculation is rampant and many here wonder what this means for the future of Buckley, as we expect to grow by about 3500 people—45 percent—in the next 10-15 years. Eric recently wrote about salmon being a canary in a coal mine, and Buckley may serve that same function for many cities on the rural fringe.

    So. How do we maintain such a quality of life in the face of land speculation and impending development, while planning for the goals of the Growth Management Act? Do we approach this challenge like so many other towns in Washington are facing, even though we are unlike many of these towns? Do we adopt New Urbanism, even though it doesn’t have a formal theory (it is more like art and science) and we’re an exurb? How much do we affect the real estate market to meet Buckley’s goals?

    All planners manipulate markets when they plan—zoning arose because cities have externalities ("nuisances"). I have to justify my intervention in the real estate market to meet GMA guidelines, and in my mind, I’m justifying it by making Buckley resilient–as in how an ecosystem is resilient. I avoid concepts like "resilient" or "sprawl" with my neighbors, however, so I explain how it benefits them as individuals: their kids can buy a house here, there are preferred designs, we are making walkable neighborhoods. I also cannot use "sprawl" or "resilient" with decision-makers, so I explain how it benefits the elected’s constituents: efficient services, maintained or improved quality of life, strong businesses.

    Oh, and the elk will still be around, too.

    Buckley is like a little ecosystem out here, and I want to keep it that way. Please pass along your thoughts on these issues, especially regarding resilience or how you are making your place work.