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I was struck by the differences in tone and substance between Ms. Gresinger’s letter, “Adjust your sails,” and Mr. Maxwell’s piece, “Akre’s Trojan Horse,” in last week’s edition of this newspaper. While Ms. Gresinger paints a nuanced picture of a bright future for Rappahannock County, Mr. Maxwell paints one of doom and gloom. Mr. Maxwell’s editorial is short on facts and long on rhetoric and conjecture.
Mr. Maxwell says that “the Rush River Commons, if approved and built, will be the single biggest real estate development in the history of Rappahannock County. Or, to put it differently, the biggest single addition of housing since the land was inhabited by its Indigenous Peoples in the early 17th Century.”
Mr. Maxwell makes it sound like we are trying to emulate Clevenger’s Corner with thousands of units. The fact is we are looking at only 20 units. When one talks about development, one has to look at the footprint of the development. Over the 45+ years I have lived here, Rappahannock County’s comprehensive plan has called for development in and around the town and villages. Rush River Commons is in the town of Washington and leaves little or no footprint at all. It is not situated on agricultural or conservation land. It destroys no one’s viewshed and is compatible with its surroundings.
Mr. Maxwell also brings up the specter that brings fear into the hearts of all the citizens of Rappahannock: “How long before Rappahannock County has its first traffic lights — a massive array spanning all four lanes of 211 at the Warren Avenue intersection?” During my first 43 years in Rappahannock I lived in Harris Hollow, 1.6 miles from the town line. I drove through town every day.This is when the town’s population was 2.5 times greater than it is today.
The Inn was growing. The Black Kettle Motel was still operational. The bank was in town. The library was in town. The post office was in town. The doctor’s office for the entire county was in town and all of the county’s offices were in town and there were numerous small businesses in town. I never had a problem with traffic and no one thought we needed traffic lights. There are three major entrances from 211 and another from Fodderstack Road.
The traffic going through the villages in Rappahannock County is greater than the town’s, as major highways run right through them. Washington is on a bypass. The two entrances to the Commons are located on the border of town and will not contribute to noise pollution or parking problems. Mr. Maxwell claims that “the so-called affordable housing shortage is a myth.” I recommend that he and all those who agree with him read the real estate ads in today’s paper. See how many are affordable. Last week the least expensive home was listed at $399,000 and the cheapest piece of undeveloped property was seven acres for $79,000.
Mr. Maxwell also claims that a home for the Rappahannock Food Pantry could be found in Sperryville. I know for a fact that the food pantry had a search committee and could not find a space that fulfilled its needs. The committee looked at other spaces and land in the county but the owners would not sell or rent. One parcel did not meet environmental standards.
Mr. Maxwell tries to appeal to our sense of being rugged individuals here in Rappahannock, “where change happens one family at a time, making their own decisions about where to build a home, plant a crop or start a business.” This is not true. Much of Rappahannock’s population were forced to live here and were told where to live and their homes were paid for by the government. That is why we have roads named “Poor House” and “Resettlement.” We have the most restrictive zoning, having to do with everything from lot size to the slope of the land. We have all kinds of restrictions on where a business can be located. Mr. Maxwell suggests that we have a referendum in the county on Rush River Commons. That’s a bad idea. We already have standards, we have elected officials who, with the input of the citizens at public hearings, make these decisions. It’s called representative government.
There are some good things about the project. It supplies housing for people who need some help. It enriches the county as property tax in town is paid 100 percent to the county. It enlarges public outdoor space and is well situated across from Rappahannock’s public park. The building for the food pantry is paid for without any public money. The food pantry will also be rent free. (a dollar a year). The Commons will provide offices for nonprofit groups who are working for the betterment of public interests. And, on a personal note, it will have a place for me to walk to so I might have a cup of coffee and a pastry.
In conclusion, besides being awed by Mr. Maxwell’s knowledge of Greek history, I found the tone of his commentary disturbing. By calling the project a Trojan horse, he is suggesting that Mr. Akre is not acting in good faith. There is no evidence to support that conclusion. Mr. Maxwell’s suggestion that Mr. Akre is a one-man gang is just not true. There are many in the county that support this project. Mr. Maxwell uses words like “developer” and “tenement.” These buildings are not tenements.
Mr. Maxwell states the town council “cannot pretend its decision will not adversely affect everyone else in the county.” This is a divisive remark and is based purely on conjecture and innuendo. Mr. Maxwell also states, “The town of Washington is not an island unto itself. It is integrated into a larger community.” Tell that to the minions you lead. When Mr. Akre talked about a boundary line adjustment that would bring a contiguous piece of his own property into the town, the cry went up: “You cannot take COUNTY land and put it in Washington.” When there was some speculation that the library may move back into Washington, the cry went up, “You cannot take OUR COUNTY Library and put it in Washington.” Last time I checked, Washington was the county seat and was still in the county.
Mr. Maxwell leaves us with the words of another long dead ancient: “Beware Greeks bearing gifts.” I prefer the words of perhaps our new philosopher, Ms. Gresinger, who wrote: “The winds of change have blown [memories of bygone days] away and the sails in our community boat need to be adjusted to provide the best way to go forward into the future most of us want.”
The writer lives in Washington