Saturday, April 23, 2005

03: "Why are they trying to pave over Adams County"

So where does all this talk about development in Adams County eventually lead? Let's look at what makes Adams County tick.

First, Adams County is very fortunate in that it has two major industries that allow it to thrive. The better known tourism industry thrives because of the presence of the Gettysburg Battlefield National Military Park and the Eisenhower Presidential Site. There is no nice way to say this, but Gettysburg residents, and others, have been making a living off the battle and the 51,000 casualties since July 5, 1863, when the first photographs of the Battlefield were taken, showing the dead, and the destruction. Shortly after that, burial parties were sent out to gather the dead and get them into the ground as quickly as possible. The efforts of local attorney David Wills to establish the National Soldiers' Cemetery that fall, attracted not only the President of the United States, who played second fiddle to the greatest American orator of his time, Edward Everett, it also attracted thousands of people who spent their money on food, lodging, transportation and some private tours of the battlefield given by locals who "knew their way around". Thus, Gettysburg's enormous tourism industry was born, thanks in part to a President, an attorney, some photographers, and a whole bunch of curious tourists.

Nestled in the northern part of Adams County, on the eastern slopes of South Mountain a few miles west of York Springs, are 20,000 acres of orchards. Apples, peaches, plums, and pears are the principle fruits grown there. It is truly the Apple Capital of Pennsylvania -- perhaps of the region. Not only is the fruit absolutely, and delightfully delicious, the view is absolutely and delightfully spectacular. Drive along PA Route 94 from Mount Holly Springs in Cumberland County, east over South Mountain to York Springs and you will see orchards stretching as far as the eye can see on top of the mountain, and on its eastern slopes. Some of the major fruit wholesalers in the nation have large canning operations here. Other outlets are more local, as more than a few owner-families have large stands, some of which are open year round, that sell the delicious fruits, alongside locally grown vegetables. Want corn? Stop at one of the fruit stands from late July on and pick up a dozen ears along with your cantaloupe, tomatoes and peaches. The fall cider is something to be experienced. Ice cold, and freshly made, you can sometimes taste four or five different types of apples as the cider is going down your throat.

You'd think these two industries would run over the late spring to mid fall, and then shut down for the colder months. Not so. Neither of them shuts down completely. Even in the heart of winter, in snowy February, tourists are out wandering the Battlefield, and visiting the downtown relic and souvenir stores. Even in February, some of the larger fruit stands are open, selling apple butter, jams and jellies, preserves, cider, and deer apples. True, the seasonal employment runs from mid April to early November, with a large portion terminating at the start of the school year in late August. But the industries keep going. The canneries run just about year round.

So, what does all this mean in terms of development. For one thing, development, both commercial and residential, is not only encouraged by local government, it is actively sought. The drive to bring jobs to the county is the publicly flouted reason for this effort. One could surmise from this that Adams County suffers from a high unemployment rate. The reality is, according to public statistics on the website of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, that even when the national and state unemployment figures hover at or above 5%, Adams County rarely exceeds 3%. When it does, it is the heart of the winter when just about all outdoor and tourist and fruit growing/processing activity slows to a crawl, and in a matter of weeks, it is well below 2.5% again. Most counties in Pennsylvania (or anywhere else for that matter) would give their eye-teeth for numbers like that. And the other reality is this: truth be told, the local Economic Development Corporation has very little to do with it. Who the heck are they anyway?

Economic Development Corporations were formed a few decades ago when runaway inflation was holding back the economy in many areas. It was a way to get local business leaders involved in bringing in new industry and commerce to a depressed area. Government funding does apply, though they claim otherwise. Because as corporations they are not subject to the Public Sunshine laws they can, and do, act in secret. Phew! Anyone else smell that?
Locally, the Adams County version worked for several years to lure WalMart to the county in an attempt to put a huge distribution center at the Hunterstown exit of US 15 north of town. It was a secret project, with juicy details of things like "mystery business to bring 100 new jobs to the county", leaked to the press. Finally, they could contain the truth no longer, and the deal leaked out to the public. The response was instantaneous, loud, and firm: NO WAY! People wrote letters detailing estimated traffic loads on the highways, and unemployment figures that belied any effort to bring jobs to Adams County. The killer was a letter that detailed the effects on the proposed parking area's runoff during an average thunderstorm. WalMart pulled out. Within a year, the very visible leader of the ACEDC was kicked upstairs and they have been very quiet since. Primarily they are working to get businesses to move into the new Convention Center complex being built along US 15 at US 30. A hotel, a restaurant, a multi-plex cinema, are scheduled to go in with the Convention Center itself, but many of the shops remain unfilled. Meanwhile, the drive-through vista of Adams County gets less green every day.

You might ask, at this point, why is there such an enormous effort to develop, commercially and residentially? And why here in Adams County. Here are some of the reasons:
  1. Adams County has lots of green lands, and any land is available at the right price.
  2. Adams County is willing to invoke eminent domain to get any parcel of land it wants for development.
  3. The amount of money to be made in commercial and residential development is enormous. To look at the figures would scald your eyes!
  4. Very little of that money makes its way into the public coffers of Adams County.

Then you might ask yourself, "Is all this really necessary?" The short answer is "No". With incredibly low unemployment and no shortage of available housing, there is no need to build more houses. With an enormous private convention facility south of town, there is no need to build another one east of town. Of course, if you want to have an alternative to the privately owned convention center, then, yes, you need another one. After years of having one, and lately no movie theater screens closer than Hanover, now we are getting two cinemaplex systems one with 13 screens and another with 7. Is this not overkill? Can this area support that many?

The answer is "Yes, if you let the development continue."

Remember in November! Before you vote, GettysBLOG!


Copyright © 2005, GettysBLOG and GettysBLOG2. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, April 22, 2005

02: "Here's a deal for Developers!"

This is the original of a letter sent to both the Gettysburg Times, and the Hanover Evening Sun. The Sun published it on a Sunday, and the Gettysburg Times, which also called to confirm who wrote it, never put it in. No surprise there.

"Here’s a Deal for Developers:

Okay Wormold, A&S, Sites, and the rest of the Adams County Developers, here’s the deal: how about, for the next twenty years, we’ll maintain the taxes at their current rates, or lower, while you pay the difference for the new roads, widening and repaving of current roads, storm drains and sewers, runoff studies, water use studies, water supply expansions, sewage treatment plant expansions and additions, water and sewer lines and hookups, curbs and sidewalks, fire hydrant installations, traffic lights, street lights, gas main extensions, school additions, new schools, and increased school administrative staff and faculty, books and supplies. While we’re at it, new fire and police facilities, additional officers, patrol cars, firemen, fire and rescue vehicles, and ambulances, and the personnel to man and drive them, new and expanded municipal buildings, more municipal staff, snow plows, road workers, mowers, recreation facilities, increased 911 staff, and the likely needed addition to the brand new county prison that increased population will require. Oh, and there will be the inevitable expansion of the Hospital to handle the increased patient load, and that means an expensive effort to bring more physicians and nurses to the area, to say nothing of all those expensive Hospital Administrators, health insurers, and additional private practice physicians and specialists. The Courthouse will need two more courtrooms and two more judges to man them. Goodness, all of that is going to require a local Public Transit system as well. All those buses on our streets and back roads. Gosh, even the commercial and industrial base will boom, requiring more building, more transportation, perhaps even a cross-county expressway to hook up Routes 83 and 81. It would be “Gettysburg Bypass”. That’s all going to require more State Police coverage, so you better promise to take on any state tax increases as well.

All the folks you add to our county census as residents are not even going to come close to covering the costs in taxes.

Who else can we turn to in order to pay for all these increased services we’ll need to cover the people you are importing to our county? I certainly don't want to pay for all of that. I don't think there are many folks who do, either.

Maybe you can work a deal with the School Boards and promise to pick up the slack they are sure is going to occur when they surrender taxing authority to the taxpayers under Act 72!
While all these townships and county administrators are exhibiting such largesse to the developers, perhaps they had better take a good hard look at what the taxpayers are thinking about down the road."

Remember in November! Before you vote, GettysBLOG!


Copyright © 2005, GettysBLOG and GettysBLOG2. All Rights Reserved.

01: "If you build it they will come!"

This is not a site that is friendly to development. I suppose that means it will not be friendly to most of the currently serving politicians in Adams County, or to their developer-friendly newspaper, The Gettysburg Times ("All the news that fits the development plans"). What you see here you will likely never see in the Times. In fact, I am sure it will be studiously ignored by the Times.

Adams County is a solid "red county" on the political map. John Kerry had about as much support here in the last election as Abe Lincoln did in Charleston, SC. I suspect there were more folks involved in breaking the glass door of Republican campaign headquarters than actually voted for Kerry in Adams County.

Being a conservative area has come to mean it is developer friendly, especially if the area is largely agricultural and has been for a long time. Neighboring Lancaster and York Counties have been under the jackboot of runaway development for decades. Now Adams County, the Apple Capital of Pennsylvania, and home to many of the large "Dutch" farms that overfed the invading Confederates in 1863, is in the hands of the developers. Why is this pattern happening?

Because of the relative nearness of Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, MD, and other, smaller cities such as Frederick, Hagerstown, and Westminster, MD, the prime farmland in south-central Pennsylvania, the same farmland that fed the American Revolution, is under assault by developers seeking to build high priced luxury bedroom communities for people who work in the aforementioned cities and towns. Huge farm tracts converted to enormous housing developments are already in the works. One developer wanted to put almost 1200 houses on 440 acres and call it an "Equine Community". If one does the math, one is left wondering where the "equines" of this community are going to live when each house gets a little over one-third of an acre! Over 400 houses are planned for the gorgeous woods along southbound US 15 between York Street (US 30) and Hanover Street (PA 116) east of town. The Fairfield area is under seige by Wormold Development of Maryland, planners of the "Equine Community". They have pulled in their horns and now increased their lot size average to an acre.

Lest you think this is going to be affordable housing, allow me to disabuse you of that notion here and now. These homes will start at a quarter of a million dollars. Each. Ouch! This is not low cost, affordable houses for the masses, ladies and gents, these are small palaces for the elite of the Nation's Capital, essentially. If you can't afford a Georgetown address, surely you will be able to afford a Gettysburg address. So you can readily see what is driving the development. But this drive develops more than houses, It pushes ethics and morality to the very brink.

The aging farmers in our surrounds have every right in the world to sell their farms when they become too old to keep farming, and their children would prefer not to farm. Agricultural buyers for these situations are rare. Further, the prices they would pay for the farms are often not what the farm should bring, certainly not worthy of a lifetime of dust and mud, raising crops, tending to animals, and doing all the farm things required to be successful. Farming, the world's second oldest professtion behind hunting, is indeed a noble and worthy endeavor to which many dedicate their entire lifetime, and succeeding generations have done so for centuries around here. But times change. When the farmer sells, he also has the right to get top dollar for his property. And the one market that will pay the farmer that money is developers. They'll pay four to ten times what the farm is really worth. Can you imagine what kind of profits that land will generate for the developer if he is willing to pay that kind of money? And who would deny the farmer the right to that money?

Well, there are some who think the farmer owes something to the community with which he has been in a cooperative relationship since Eve took her first bite of an Adams County apple. And herein lies the rub. The remaining community, those who will be left behind to deal with the "Equine Communities", or as the local township supervisors are now calling them: PRDs (Planned Residential Developments), are the people who will be faced with an enormously increased tax burden to pay for the infrastructure and more (see next GettysBLOG!). One of the selling points the developers will emphasize in their sales brochures for their PRDs is low taxes. And they are, relatively, low here. But they will not remain low very long.

Four hundred new homes in two townships south of Gettysburg, four to six hundred in another township north of Gettysburg, and four hundred east of Gettysburg in still another township, plus a new "Golfing Community" and expansion of the existing "Golfing Community" southeast of Gettysburg, will provide more brand new houses in the immediate suburbs of Gettysburg than currently exist in Gettysburg.

At two-point-whatever kids per home, for example, we are going to see an increase of around 3,000 new students in the schools here. (Does anyone now harbor any doubts why the Gettysburg Area School District built that oversized Taj Mahal called "The New High School" north of town? And how long ago was that planned? Are we feeling queasy yet?) After all of this, I have an admission to make that might scare a few politicians, at least for a while. I am a Republican. Why should they worry about that, you ask? Because if I am thinking these things, other Republicans are too, and that threatens to end a status quo that has existed here for far too long a time.

And wait until we start talking about commercial development! (Why do we need twenty movie theater screens in Gettysburg, less than five miles apart at two exits along Route 15?) Now that I've whet your appetite, read the next GettysBLOG to see what I think should happen.

Remember in November! Before you vote, GettysBLOG!
Copyright © 2005, GettysBLOG and GettysBLOG2. All Rights Reserved.