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ST. PAUL-Less than a year after a metro-area guide to growth was adopted, the Metropolitan Council is working on a new plan to accommodate the nearly one million additional people expected in the area by 2030–while preserving the quality of life for the 2.7 million people who already live here.

The document is a statement of regional policies, goals and strategies that guide council decision-making on investments in transportation, parks, wastewater and aviation infrastructure in the seven-county area to promote orderly and efficient growth. It takes the place of the Regional Blueprint the previous council adopted in late 2002.

The Metropolitan Council, appointed this year by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, wanted to put its own imprint on the plan. The much shorter document (45 pages instead of 107), however, represents few significant policy shifts in the draft that the regional planning agency has approved for public discussion.

The new plan “better reflects priorities of efficiency and collaboration with local communities,” says council chairman Peter Bell.

The plan reflects some philosophical changes within the Metropolitan Council, including a tighter focus on the agency’s planning for transportation, wastewater collection and treatment, airports and parks and open space.

One change is related to preservation of agricultural land in the seven-county metro. The new plan aims to ensure that land isn’t subdivided into large lots so it can later be efficiently developed. As for preservation, the new plan says “communities must determine how best to use this land.” The new plan also puts a stronger emphasis on protecting water resources.

Another change relates to transportation, taking congestion and efficient use practices into consideration along with the connections to land use.

The Metropolitan Council will stick with the previous plan’s approach of encouraging growth along transportation corridors rather than envisioning it in concentric circles, and its commitment to see that 30% of the region’s growth will happen through redevelopment in already developed communities.

State law directs the Metropolitan Council to develop this comprehensive plan, which is ultimately used by cities as a guide for preparing their own growth plans. There will be meetings and public hearings in November before the council adopts the plan, scheduled for January.

The plan emphasizes the current Metropolitan Council’s goal of allowing cities more control and autonomy.

“Even the name is intended to signify a more flexible framework–to guide future growth– than a blueprint‚ that dictates how things will be done,” Bell says.

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