RICHMOND -- A new poll shows strong public support for a Virginia state policy to regulate growth, and one lawmaker sees the survey as a mandate for legislators to craft a statewide planning process, environmentalists said.

Seventy-nine percent of those polled strongly or moderately agreed with the view that the state should adopt a comprehensive land-use policy and decision-making system.

Even regions that did not perceive growth as too fast supported the statement. Support was strongest in the Shenandoah Valley, where 95 percent favored a statewide growth policy.

There were also indications that Virginians believe such a policy should be implemented locally. Eighty percent of those polled said that localities should have more authority to manage growth.

The president of the nine-county Piedmont Environmental Council, which commissioned the survey, said the poll results show "overwhelming support" among Virginians for a state policy on growth.

Robert Dennis of Rappahannock County told reporters at a State Capitol news conference this week that respondents also favored increased spending for protecting and preserving natural resources and "ending taxpayer subsidies to the building industry."

Asked to rate Virginia's performance in protecting the environment, 34 percent said that it was excellent or good, while 58 percent called it fair or poor. Only in southwestern Virginia did more than half the respondents (59 percent) rate the performance excellent or good.

Sixty-six percent said they were willing to pay higher taxes to preserve open space and recreational opportunities, and 81 percent approved of higher taxes to protect air, water and other natural resources.

Del. Tayloe Murphy (D-Westmoreland), chairman of the Commission on Population Growth and Development, suggested the poll would provide the impetus for legislators to act on the sensitive issue.

"I think the poll gives a mandate to the commission ... to recommend to the full legislature a statewide planning process," he said.

J.B. Hall, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Virginia, declined to comment on the poll until he had reviewed the findings.

The poll by Mason-Dixon Opinion Research Inc., a Maryland firm, was conducted March 3 to 10 and involved telephone interviews with 842 Virginia residents. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 points.

Charles Whitehouse, a Fauquier County resident and chairman of the council's board of directors, said the poll shows that Virginians "are profoundly concerned over preservation issues and believe action is needed now."

Most of those surveyed took a dim view of the building industry. A majority linked residential development to higher property taxes, and 51 percent said developers pay less than their fair share of the local tax burden.

A large majority also said developers have too much influence over local and state politicians. They said candidates who receive one-third or more more of their campaign funds from builders are unlikely to be objective on issues affecting the industry and that limits should be placed on how much developers can donate to campaigns.

Nearly 40 percent said they would be no more or less inclined to vote for a General Assembly candidate who supports greater controls on growth.

Thirty-four percent said they would be more likely to vote for such a candidate, while 9 percent said they would be less likely to give their support.