Friday, April 22, 2005

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.

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