Anti-Development or Plain Old Discrimination?

Jim, what if you decided to take all your blog earnings and buy 400 acres of Fauquier County open space so that you could build a “Bacon’s Rebellion Resort.” While I know you have exceptional sales skills, don’t you think that some folks in proximity to your proposed development might oppose it, no matter what you had planned for the property? Don’t you think some of these opponents might be well-heeled, having the wherewithal to get bumper stickers printed saying, “Crush the Rebellion?” Would you characterize these opponents as anti-development zealots or anti-Wahoo bigots?

Last night Sheila Crump Johnson, co-founder of Black Entertainment Television (later sold for $3 billion)spoke at a Richmond conference. Jeffrey Kelly of the Richmond Times-Dispatch described her remarks this way:

But she said it is her latest venture, Salamander Hospitality in Middleburg, that has opened her eyes to the discrimination that can accompany a minority business.

Days after she announced the 400-acre resort and spa in Northern Virginia, she told the banquet audience of roughly 800 last night, she began seeing “Don’t BET Middleburg” bumper stickers and receiving various forms of hate mail.

“I didn’t think it was going to hit that hard,” she said. Johnson now has round-the-clock security and said she has received death threats against her and her two children.

Obviously, hate mail and threats are in a class of repulsive behavior all their own. We have no way of knowing if these were a few isolated crackpots or a more systematic effort. No matter what, they certainly shattered the myth of Middleburg gentility.

But the bumper stickers? Can’t anti-development forces use a shorthand to identify the project they oppose? It’s a catchy message, packing more information than “Stop Salamander.” BET is an internationally known acronym. I haven’t spent all that much time around Middleburg lately, but I suspect a lot of developments in the area have been vigorously opposed.

The folks who worked at Disney in the 90’s might be able to tell Ms. Johnson something about anti-development bumper stickers and hate mail received when they tried to locate in nearby Prince William County.

Not everything is discrimination.

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  1. The Jaded JD Avatar
    The Jaded JD

    Ooo! A BR resort! Can I buy a timeshare?

  2. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Saying “No” is like using highways: since there is no cost involved, it gets over used.

    “Community participation” has become a code word for saying no.

    I’m convinced that if Sheila Johnson proposed a tree farm, someone would oppose it on the basis that the trees might get cut someday, but threats and hate mail?

  3. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Hi, Will, I don’t know enough about the particulars of Sheila Johnson’s proposal to comment on its merits. Of course, “threats and hate mail” are unforgiveable under any circumstances. I won’t even try to defend those. But I am familiar with Middleburg, having stopped there recently on the way to visit my brother in Berryville nearby.

    The town is undeniably quaint and charming. I would deem it one of Virginia’s architectural treasures. The reason that it’s quaint and charming is that builders have stuck to the scale, density and architectural type of the existing development. I ran a blurb in VA Newswire a while back about a new office building going up, and the extraordinary efforts the developer made to fit in. No one raised a fit about that project that I know of.

    Now, a man’s (or woman’s) land is their’s to do what they will with it. But if a property owner in the Middleburg area comes in with a major project that changes the scale, density and architectural integrity that the old-timers have preserved over the decades, that person should hardly expect to be welcomed. Although I would say that Ms. Johnson has the right to develop the land as she pleases (subject to protecting the public health and safety), I don’t think that she has the right to expect the community to support her, especially if (I emphasize “if” beause I don’t know the details) she violates the architectural integrity of the town.

    I see a similar phenomenon in downtown Fredericksburg, where my mother lives. Generations of property owners have protected the integrity of the historic district, creating something unique and impossible to replicate, and increasing property values as a result. Then someone comes along, tears down a historic building and wants to build an office building that’s totally out of scale and bears no resemblance to the other buildings. That person is leaching off the value created by the others–expropriating value for himself and diminishing the value for others–through his actions. Of course his neighbors are furious.

    Apparently, that’s the way the people of Middleburg feel about Ms. Johnson’s proposed project (although, I stress again, I am not privy to the details of her project.)

  4. Will Vehrs Avatar
    Will Vehrs

    So, I guess no BR resort … even though you have a tenant lined up!

    Seriously, I agree with you and offer the same caveats.

  5. Will – I see your point, but I’d say this:

    If she’s getting the death threats and the racially toned mail, then I can completely understand why she would put 2 and 2 together and figure that the BET reference was also racially motivated.

    I also can’t quite comprehend how a spa would bring traffic to middleburg. Maybe 100 more cars per day…spread out over 12 hours of business, that’s really pretty low.

  6. Pastor John Avatar
    Pastor John

    this is all the liberal smart growth crowd that wants to stop growth because it will feed the capitalist machine. this proves my theory that liberals are truly racist.

  7. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    My mother telss the story of moving to Nantucket during the War where my father was stationed as a meteorologist. On settling in she set about to wash the windows. She had no sooner taken taken a bucket and stepstool outside when a bevy of neighbors descended on her.

    “Oh no, we don’t wash our windows here. It took 200 years to get that salt patina on the glass.” Being from Tennessee, Mom of course had no clue as to the local custom, and at least they didn’t bring death threats.

    But there you have it: someone washes the windows, and there goes the neighborhood.

    I never understood why someone would build something completely out of character for the neighborhood, but in Nantucket, the result of ARB actions over the years has become a sort of Faux Nantucket, where everything looks vaguely the same, and pleasant enough, but still leaving you with the feeling of profound phony.

    Williamsburg gives me the same feeling.

    The property Johnson got had been
    on the market for some time and activists were hoping for a conservation buyer. As I read it they were initially thrilled that someone wealthy bought the property and not a developer. Then they couldn’t understand why after spending a few million to get the place, that Johnson wanted to do something with it.

    Part of the property is inside the city limits, which I think accounts for the allowed density/business use. She has offered to throw in a few million to upgrade city sewer or water if the town will let her connect (system is maxed out). Town hasn’t been able to make a decision, so she had planned to withdraw her offer go ahead with plan B.

    Then the whole zoning thing went ino limbo on account of the court ruling and she may not be able to build at all. So much for clarity, predictability, and fairness.

    Who knows, maybe she’ll throw up her hands and give the whole thing to Habitat……

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    Keep your head up Ms. Johnson. I for one will be a guest at your establishment. Its good to see growth in the area and to see that minority owners, too, can build a respectable business and be accepted by the larger open-minded majority.

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