June 5, 2006
The Augusta Free Press has a roundup of opinions on the proposed industrialization of Augusta County, which has elicited a sharp controversy. Chairman Wendell Coleman of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors takes exception to those who move to this area and then try to close the door on anyone else who wants to move here. He says he seeks a balance between the rural scenery and economic growth. I would agree in principle, but remain deeply skeptical about the massive scale of development that is apparently being planned. It would change the character of this community forever. Some suggest that such hesitation or opposition is nothing more than selfish "NIMBY" attitudes: Not In My Back Yard! Board of Supervisors member Nancy Sorrells, from the Riverheads district, "thinks the NIMBY label is not appropriate in this instance," and Del. Steve Landes explained why the folks in his Weyers Cave community are so upset by the proposed mega-factory. I was interviewed for that story and acknowledged that such sentiment no doubt plays some part. My conclusion:
The way to keep NIMBY sentiment in check is to make sure that public forums are wide open, with a variety of civic activists involved so that no particular interest groups prevail over the public interest. That should be the primary criteri[on] in evaluating all these development proposals.
With the kind of closed-door process that the Augusta County Board has been pursuing thus far, on the other hand, there are bound to be suspicions that some people are going to benefit much more than others. I commented on this controversy on May 19 and May 15. Since I am a resident of the city of Staunton and not Augusta County, however, my opinion on this matter is not necessarily very important.
FULL DISCLOSURE: In the summer of 1994, I was on the side of "NIMBY" opponents of the proposed "Disney USA" theme park that would have ruined the Manassas battlefield park. I think historical preservation is an inherently worthy cause that everyone should support. In July of 2003, in contrast, I was harshly critical of the "NIMBY" opponents of a proposed new baseball stadium in Arlington, which ended Virginia's best chance for landing the former Montreal Expos franchise, which later became the Washington Nationals. I think that it would have fostered a stronger community in Arlington, raising civic pride, but a non-baseball fan might disagree. See my Baseball 2003 Archives and scroll down to the July entries. The bottom line is, we all have our own subjective biases, which is why it is better to open the decision-making process for these sorts of projects to a wide range of voices, to make sure the public interest is being served.