October 20, 2006
Last month I called attention to local efforts on behalf of land conservation, which is one of the most contentious issues here in the Shenandoah Valley. To find out more, I attended a joint meeting of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors and Planning Commissions on Wednesday night, and learned that promoting good stewardship of the land is a lot more complex than you might think. Members of the public were allowed to speak out on a proposed land ordinance which would restrict the ability of land owners to sell off agricultural land in subdivisions. Not surprisingly, real estate agents are sharply opposed to this measure, as are property rights advocates. There is also opposition from some farmers and low-income people; one woman warned that this measure would cause land prices to "go through the roof." She complained that "elitists rule" in Augusta County. Well! Many small-scale farmers make a living by selling off individual plots of land every few years, but apparently some are abusing the "family member exception" provision for transferring land to family members without penalty. For me, the most compelling argument was made by Larry Weeks, who pointed out that unrestricted conversion of farmland to residential use sets the stage for eventual big increases in costs for roads, sewers, and other infrastructure. Who's going to pay for all that? The bottom line is that any new restrictions on property rights should be compensated through some form of tax relief. This hearing was reported by the News Leader. I also learned that there is an information clearing house on local issues: Eye On Augusta Co(unty).
Years ago, Fairfax and Loudoun Counties tried and failed to manage commercial and residential development on rural land, in the face of suburbanization. The same thing is happening even in this relatively remote location, as many professional people commute long distances to work. (Thanks to cheap gasoline!) The Shenandoah Valley's beauty is renowned around the country, and yet many local leaders seem unaware of the reason why this area is so desirable, as I noted on May 15.
Meanwhile, a group of Mennonite farmers around Dayton (in Rockingham County, north of here) are promoting measures to prevent flooding and pollution runoff by reinforcing river banks and planting trees as a "riparian buffer." After all the fish kills and contamination warnings in recent years, this is welcome news. For those folks, the connection between religious obligation and maintaining the Good Earth in a healthy state is quite obvious. Too bad it's so hard for many other people to grasp that connection... See the News Leader.
State government officials recently completed the final steps toward the consolidation of the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind in Staunton. There used to be a separate such school in Hampton, and there was a proposal to close both it and the one in Staunton, possibly building a new, combined facility in nearby Fishersville or elsewhere. Sanity prevailed, thankfully, and the school in Staunton will be preserved and upgraded. Much of the credit for keeping that venerable local institution alive goes to Delegate Chris Saxman. This is especially good news for Staunton because the closure of the Staunton penitentiary a couple years ago was a big blow to the local economy. That property, situated in a scenic area near downtown, has been sold off to private developers...