Open Forum: ‘Bad times’

Posted: February 26, 2013

Bad times. These two words are how Ralph Waldo Emerson began his reaction to the Fugitive Slave Act and, although the slave act was much more sinister, I find myself embracing the same sentiment every time I read of the Clarke County Planning Commission’s actions.

Forty years ago, county fathers instituted a zoning plan that would insure the perpetuation of the agriculture nature of Clarke. By limiting development, the agricultural scene would be preserved, keeping the farm vistas the way they were since the earliest settlers.

Tracts of land were limited to a few development sites and the landowner’s taxes were reduced to compensate for this sacrifice. Up until recently, this plan seemed to have been working. For proof of this, one has only to look at the indiscriminate development boom in Jefferson and Frederick counties.

I attended the planning sessions creating the preservation of these rural vistas and came away knowing I would keep witnessing the same scenes that Washington once surveyed and Mosby viewed as he crossed the Blue Ridge. Heady times — living in a county with such foresight.

Bad times. Over the last 20 years, the zoning board has routinely allowed development that has diminished the dream of the Clarke fathers. The agricultural scene has been compromised and, to those who admonished us not “to Loudounize Clarke,” the response is: “It’s too late.”

There is a McMansion on the Blue Ridge. Five new houses abutting rural Allen Road could easily have been hidden on the 300-acre mother tract. Lake Frederick, once pristine, has lost its natural quality. Two houses have been squeezed (by pumping sewerage up a hill and letting it flow back) into a tract across from a magnificent home on the National Register.

I have never gone to a dump that did not have a bay closed. Yet I believe Clarke County is letting Frederick County build a collection station in the county. And the list goes on, chipping away at the dream of a rural setting formed four decades ago.

Bad times. The latest nail in the rural Clarke coffin is the approval of an upgrade for Chester’s gas station. There is no way to see how this action will perpetuate the rural scene. Moreover, as an improvement just below a blind spot on the highway, it constitutes a real highway hazard, assurances to the contrary notwithstanding. And so we have another intrusion on the roads leading to Berryville, center of this once-rural community.

Bad times. To see what the zoning commission is giving up, one has only to travel a mile or so on State Route 611 leading into Summit Point. Here is a rural community at its finest. Overhead wires are for the most part hidden, opening up vistas to magnificent farm settings. Single-farm manors dominate the scene, obscuring newer homes constructed back from the road. One soul has even planted a row of oaks along the road, trees that will not reach maturity for another 75 years. Would that the commission have such foresight.

One Jefferson biographer marveled at the fact Jefferson was 80, and he was planting oaks. I am glad this farsightedness still exists.

Bad times. I have voiced these sentiments to the planners before, beginning in the 1990s, and I am not sanguine, given the mindset among most of the members of the commission, that this chipping away at the dream will change. Indeed, there’s even talk of trades and relocation of building rights. I shudder to think what we’ll be in for if the body that sandwiched those homes together across from an historic landmark is given the task of making such decisions.

Frederick County may see nothing wrong with approaching a Civil War battlefield through a housing development. They should, for the simple reason that such planning destroys the historic integrity of the site. Of course the point is now moot. Jefferson and Frederick counties have forfeited their option for compatible entrances to their historic sites. Clarke County hasn’t, as yet.

Walter S. McMann is a resident of Clarke County.