S OME FOLKS in Westmoreland County (including, unfortunately, some planners) are acting like the younger siblings of adolescents. They see the "fun" associated with growth in nearby counties--such as increased property values and economic improvement--and they want to be just like them. Unfortunately, they are overlooking the unsightly acne of spreading cookie-cutter houses, the mood swings associated with sitting in traffic, and the awkwardness as the need for services increases faster than revenue.
Don't be too quick to grow up, Westmoreland.
Two subdivision proposals under consideration are cases in point. Neither fits the county's carefully forged comprehensive plan. Both would plant multitudes of houses on agricultural land. Neither would cluster homes or save open space.
Of particular concern is builder Douglas Cooper's proposal to place about 100 homes on a 47-acre site next to the birthplace of James Monroe. Sure, the land is swampy and poor for farming, but is the best use of it growing houses? Planners voted 4-1 for the project, with barely a nod toward the property's possible historical significance (it was once owned by Monroe's father, whose tombstone recently was unearthed there) or the county's overall building plan.
If members of the James Monroe Foundation have their way, a replica of the modest childhood home of the fifth president will rise at his birthplace, but the historicity of the location would certainly be marred by a swarm of 21st-century plots next door. Few rural counties in America are as history-laden as Westmoreland. Once home to George Washington, Robert E. Lee, Alexander Graham Bell, and John Dos Passos, as well as Monroe, the county should view its heritage as one of its most precious resources, doing all it can to preserve, protect, and defend that past. Once development takes hold, it becomes like kudzu. It covers everything and is virtually impossible to eradicate.
While Mr. Cooper's houses would fret the hem of James Monroe's birthplace, the second proposal imperils waterfront areas. Donald W. Devine Jr. of Leesburg wants to divide 128 acres on Nomini and Jules creeks into 61 building lots. Several years ago, citizens decried a couple of boathouses neighbors wanted to build. Where are those voices now?
Westmoreland should study the experiences of Spotsylvania and Stafford counties. Forty years ago, both ached for development. Today they are overrun, and struggling to cope with the results of decades of rampaging growth.
Happily, despite the Westmoreland Planning Commission's cavalier approval of the Cooper and Devine projects, county supervisors are taking a closer look. That look should include the long view, for good decisions early on can make adolescence a whole lot easier.