by Joe Fitzgerald

There’s a box, and there’s a snowball.

The box is the support of the Bluestone Town Center. It is a well-constructed but beautifully decorated box, built on strong buzzwords. Affordable Housing, and Climate Change, and Dense Development are the shiny wrapping on this gift. The snowball of opposition rolling toward City Hall grows each time a post on social media begins, “I didn’t realize ….” Didn’t realize how big it is, how much traffic, how much impact on the schools, how far from the center of town it is.

The box is being built purposefully. Proponents on the Planning Commission and City Council who have not yet heard the presentation of pros and cons are publicly and privately adding items to the box. Their box is a container for their support of the project, and they will only add those things that bolster their case.

The snowball is built on surprise. With local journalism struggling, people find out in bits and pieces how large the thing is, how many cars and students it will add, how badly proponents have considered flooding, runoff, and blasting.

The box includes support that’s at best half-hearted from city staff. The recommendation from the Community Development staff reads less like approval and more like, “Well, we guess it’s OK.” The City Attorney outlines why the offers to mitigate school impact are illegal under current law and an administrative nightmare if the city changes the law to accommodate them.

The Harrisonburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority (HRHA) and the tax specialists will open their box at the Planning Commission meeting Tuesday, where they will explain how this is the greatest thing since the golf course. The snowball of citizens will attempt to deliver death by a thousand cuts. They don’t have the staff, they don’t have the legal help, and they don’t have elected and appointed officials who’ve already made up their minds. They only have the spirit of those who have throughout our history stood up and told their government it’s wrong.

Opponents have already been described in whispers as NIMBYs, or “not in my back yard.” I live two miles away, so it’s hardly in my back yard. But what if it were? Rezoning requests like this one are required to inform neighbors. The whole idea of zoning is to regulate what is built next to what. Homeowners’ defense of their surroundings should not be subordinate to what a planning commission or HRHA chair thinks is best for them and their neighbors.

As this proposal goes forward, I hope elected and appointed officials will remember that they serve the entire city and not just the preferences of a vocal political minority. For the people we elect and the people they appoint, the whole city is supposed to be their back yard.

Joe Fitzgerald is a former mayor of Harrisonburg. This column is republished with permission from his blog, Still Not Sleeping.

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17 responses to “The Box and the Snowball”

  1. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    I know you are smitten with your own metaphors. But please give a bit more detail what the heck you are talking about and why I might care. Some links maybe at least?

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      I agree with your frustration, but it is not really Joe Fitzgerald’s fault. Somebody in charge of this blog (BR) reprints articles periodically from Fitzgerald’s blog. Regular followers of Fitzgerald know what he is talking about because this (Bluestone Town Center) is a topic that he returns to every so often. (It is a proposed large housing development.) However, you are right–reprinted here without any context is pretty confusing.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Huh oh. I knew what he meant. But then, I’ve seen developers at work before. They’re kinda like lobbyists except unlike lobbyists they don’t make money no matter what happens.

      2. C’mon, guys. If you want to know more, it’s not that big a deal to go to the blog link at the end of the article and click on “see all” at the end of the listed posts and pick out the one that applies to this topic.

    2. Joseph Fitzgerald Avatar
      Joseph Fitzgerald

      You being the first to comment on so many of these posts is like Helen Thomas getting the first question at White House press conferences. I’m sure there’s a reason for it, but it’s nothing obvious. The commenter below is right about the Harrisonburg-centric posts. Bacon picks up what he wants from my blog, and nobody subscribes to it at gunpoint. But none of the posts is written specifically for this site. I hope this sets your mind at ease.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Hey Joe, just write a clear, one paragraph description of the rezoning effort for the Bluestone project and tack it on as prologue to all new pubs. That way when JAB mirrors your occasional pub, people will know the basic topic, AND persons new to your blog needn’t hunt through previous stuff either.

        BTW, when I first saw Bluestone, I went immediately to thinking of JMU. It wasn’t until 3/4 of the way in did I realize it was mass human storage lockers with more cars.

      2. Stephen Haner Avatar
        Stephen Haner

        The reason is I waste too much time here. 🙂 And at least getting in the first or second response means it is likely to be seen. Since Ms. Beres picked it up, it would have been easy for her to add a couple of links including one to the project’s website. That is one thing I really like about this format, the ease of doing that, giving access to more info.

        This strikes me as a fairly typical local development dispute, so not sure why I should care. Have at it.

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          “And at least getting in the first or second response means it is likely to be seen.”

          Oh, not so. Not so. I, for one, sort by “newest” making the first posted the last seen and most likely forgotten.

          Large gaps in the string that say, “This comment has been removed” are the clearest indication of the juicy details.

          1. I’d like to have “random” as a sorting choice for comments. It would give the whole comments section a looser, more spontaneous feel.

          2. With people posting at irregular intervals in the comments, it’s often random now!

  2. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Traffic. That’s the scarlet thread on which to pull and pull HARD. The only thing that’s worse than driving in that burg is walking there. It has all the traffic as a Christmas at the shopping mall without the charm and milk of human kindness.

    1. Speaking of roads, I think they should name one of the streets in the new development Ordovician Terrace.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        That would be an amusing theme for naming all the roads. I like it! Except, the average American wouldn’t be able to spell them. There’s a reason for Main, Oak, Market, POBox, etc.

  3. Once upon a time, Bacon’s Rebellion made land-use issues a major focus. Those issues remain important, though they are less pressing than the rise in crime, the meltdown of our public schools, the spreading intolerance in our institutions of higher education, the misguided transformation of our electric grid, general societal descent into madness, and the assault on reality.

    If Bacon’s Rebellion had more resources, we would continue to cover land use and transportation issues like we once did. Joe Fitzgerald is one blogger who still has an eye on local land-use issues. Jon Baliles is another. Land-use decisions may be intrinsically local in nature, but they reflect statewide trends. I urged Robin to republish Fitzgerald’s piece in the hope that he will be writing more about Bluestone Town Center in the future. If he does, I expect the missing context will come into focus.

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      But, he’s not wrong, land use is immediate quality of living, plus what seems like a really cool idea today generally results in all of the BIG problems (those other niggling issues) that drive the poor boy mad… now that Fox tells him he should care.

  4. Paul Sweet Avatar
    Paul Sweet

    How long will it take to build this out? It might not be too bad if it’s stretched out over a decade.

    Would scattering clusters of 100 or so houses at a time at random all over the county (which is the typical development scenario) be any better?

    It looks like there’s a lot of mosquito ponds (blue squares on the site plan) to keep DEQ and EPA happy.

  5. RE: Background information.

    Here is a website which explains to us how good Bluestone Town Center will be:

    Here is a website which explains to us how bad Bluestone Town Center will be:

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