Monday, October 22, 2007

GettysBLOG: “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Each spring, according to the poem Mending Wall, the late Poet Laureate Robert Frost would walk along the wall between his property and his neighbor’s, with his neighbor on the other side doing the same. The two, in an annual ritual, would replace toppled stones from the wall, knocked loose mostly by hunters after rabbits.

But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.

The two neighbors continue along the line that separates them. Frost teases the man.

It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.

Wednesday night, the Borough of Gettysburg will consider changes to its zoning that will set a precedent for the future. Once it was important to the borough to keep a skyline consistent with the image of a small town where a great battle was once fought.

Local developer David Sites wants to construct two adjacent apartment buildings in the downtown area, one in a space that is not zoned for apartments, and the other, a five story structure that is in an area zoned for three stories.

What is it about the forbidden fruit that so attracts people like Sites to change that which he cannot have into that which he can have?

Obviously, Mr. Sites has no concept of the history of the area, even though he lives in grandeur within its context.

What is totally lacking in this request by Mr. Sites is any rational reason to alter or modify the zoning ordinances to permit such a tall structure. Indeed, Mr. Sites has gone on record in the past as suggesting what he terms “helpful advice” on changes to the Borough’s Zoning Plan that would make it a model for future development, and here we have the first suggestion for change: obliterate the small town skyline so Mr. Sites can develop two buildings into 64 apartments. [By their location, it would seem to be a project that would turn into student housing for Gettysburg College, although it has not been presented in that way.]

We give Mr. Sites credit for being realistic enough to not tout the merits of the project as a great economic boon to the area, creating many much needed jobs. That worn out dead horse has been beaten so many times as to become a local joke. The economy in the Gettysburg area is just fine, thank you, please stop wanting to tinker with it!

The problem with Mr. Sites is that as a developer he wants to build housing. That’s like trying to help the local economy. We don’t need it. We can’t support it. There are not enough people to occupy 25% of the planned housing for this area. Oh, right! “If you build it they will come!”

That’s the other part of the problem. We do not, or should not, want “them to come.” In order to support those numbers currently on the board in front of township supervisors in Butler, Liberty, Freedom, Mt. Joy, Straban and Cumberland Townships, the infrastructure will require a doubling of capacity: that is roads, water and sewer, electricity, and natural gas. Secondary to that is a doubling or tripling of the capacity of the Hospital, police, fire and emergency services, municipal government, and prison space.

All of that on the existing road structure? Hardly. New roads, widened roads taking frontage from landowners, the widespread use of eminent domain to resolve problems of right of way, and best use of property.

Mr. Sites, Bob Monahan, David LeVan, and others like S&A Homes have planned all this for your future. In the process they will be stealing something from you: your heritage.

The Battle of Gettysburg occurred on several days in early July of 1863 in the streets of, and in the fields surrounding the Borough of Gettysburg. In the streets of the Borough you ask? Yes, on the first day the streets were filled with the soldiers of both sides while the Union troops scrambled through town to the southeast in order to evade capture. On the second and third days, firing was directed into and out of the edges of town by snipers from both sides. The Borough was occupied by the Army of Northern Virginia throughout the great battle. The farms surrounding the Borough were the scene of many small, and more than a few large engagements during the fight. Only the immediate area to the northeast, along York Street and out the York Pike was spared any fighting, though farther north, Hunterstown saw its share. All the other surrounding areas are now preserved as parts of the entire Battlefield. The rustic and rural setting which was Adams County held this jewel of an American small town for 144 years now since the Battle. That nest of rustic flavor is not just the setting for the Great Battle, it was a part of it. Farms and homes for miles around were used as hospitals, headquarters, bivouacs, wagon parks, supply depots, and prisoner compounds.

This is the threat. This is the danger posed by men like Sites, LeVan, Monahan, and their peers, that they actively seek to destroy that heritage by strangulation. And your local governments are well disposed to favor any requests from them. The folks you elected to make these decisions almost all have some sort of stake in the development game. For example, good old boy Jay McDannell of Strabaddies fame, is a local contractor. Get the connection?

Just about all the local elected officials have some sort of direct or indirect connection that will benefit them, their families and/or their friends when land is being developed in their area.

That’s why zoning plans have been changed throughout the county to allow for the infamous PRDs – Planned Residential Developments that are enormous in size and scope. There are currently projects in the county that measure from 300-2000 homes.

There are not, and will not be enough jobs in the area to support that many people.

Many of the developers are competing with each other so they can build these expensive luxury homes and sell them to people who now live and work in the Washington, DC, Baltimore Metro area so they can commute.

Don’t believe it? Why do you think the good folks in northern Maryland are asking our support for a bypass around Emmitsburg? They are asking the people of Southwestern Adams County to help fund the bypass to relieve traffic congestion in Emmitsburg to and from US 15.

Why do you think Fairfield School District is preparing for a doubling of enrollment?

Why do you think the Taj Mahal north of Gettysburg now sits partly unused?

They await the onslaught of new students when 20,000 houses are added to the community.

And the assault has been on for a while in zoning boards around the county. Cumberland is entertaining a water park project favorably, after two other townships rejected it out of hand, and after repeated warnings about the fragility of our water resources. Yet they persist in allowing such a frivolous waste of our water! WE ARE CURRENTLY IN A DROUGHT: WATER USE RESTRICTION ARE IN EFFECT IN ADAMS COUNTY. But they’ll build it anyway. And the County that has no water to spare will have to fund an enormous pipeline project to run water to Adams County from the Susquehanna River, so the family from Cumberland County can run their Water Park and make a profit!

Now Sites, who already has built a project almost up to the edge of the Battlefield, wants to further infringe upon the history of the area, and its image. He wants an exception to the three story rule. That’s enough for now. Just for this project. Oh, and wait, in 18 months he’ll be back asking to put a hi-rise apartment complex in the Third Ward, along with a matching office tower. And two years after that…

Context is everything in an industry that supports half the County’s economy. Tourism and fruit hold the keys to the economy in Adams County, with agriculture a strong third. Dent either one of those, as they have been recently by encroaching development, and you upset the balance that has been in existence for decades, that has kept the average wage higher here than the national norm, and taxes lower than the national norm, and set a standard for long-term unemployment rates that are among the lowest in the nation. Ruin the context by changing the view, and the economy will descend into a deep hole from which the area may never recover. In fifteen years, Sites apartments may be slum tenements. In fifteen years, Straban’s and Cumberland’s vast housing tracts that used to be picturesque farms will sit half empty, victims of an area destitute of jobs, staggering under an ultra high unemployment rate, high taxes burdens, and unable to afford the water that must be pumped in for the residents here to survive.

Oh, and the Water Park? All dried up. The Cali family will be on welfare along with about 35% of the residents of Adams County.

Worst of all, they will vote overwhelmingly Democratic.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Sage advice for anyone involved with the development of Adams County. I can’t save the county. You have to. I cannot make them stop, you must. You must arm yourselves with practical facts, knowledge that cannot be refuted, and stand tall in their faces and assert your rights.

No one has a right to make a profit at someone else’s expense. It is done with the full understanding of what the deal entails.

Except, apparently, in Adams County.

I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."
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