Letters to the editor

January 16, 2005

History a prisoner in Jefferson Co.

To the editor:

Concerning the story on the county clerk's office and space needs in Jefferson County, W.Va., we would like to point out that at least some county papers and employees could have been housed by now, and the jail/house was not the delay. We know that from our own part of the story.

When the County Commissioners voted in 2000 to bulldoze the sturdy jailhouse, to make room for a parking deck for future offices in Courthouse Square, we went to court not as preservationists (though preservation groups all support saving it), but as concerned citizens.

Beyond the jarring inappropriateness of erecting a parking deck behind a historic National Landmark Courthouse in a historic district, this "progress" decision ignored the law and was wasteful - in terms of space and heritage. It meant that people in power saw bulldozing, not adaptive reuse, as the wave of the downtown's future. And, with no plans for offices yet, it also was premature to destroy a 5,000-square-foot building in order to have space.


No pressure was put on the commission for its plans. The media continued to describe the jailhouse issue in clich terms - i.e., some preservationist types don't want a building torn down - and the commission pretended the jailhouse destruction was a linchpin for new building.

In court, we won the historic review report on the jailhouse - which, by the way, reports that the north side of the courthouse would be damaged by demolition. And we know the building is good for 1,000 years. We've offered multiuse plans/ideas since 2001. For example, use the solid cells for county document storage and the Georgian-Revival house (where the jailer and family lived) for public/county space. All would be possible with collaboration with historic architects/designers (which we provided), and millions in grant money for American communities saving their history. The Schewel building also was available for office space.

Clearly, providing county space was not the priority for some county commissioners. Instead, they want to implement their grand design. The commission never even sought advice or assistance from its own local historic groups in this most important phase of growth in the heart of the historic district.

Our efforts have never been about one building, but about respecting heritage in all growth decisions. Without this, heritage is nibbled away bit by bit: A Civil War structure is destroyed for golf course space (perhaps a bank decides a view of this new building trumps a view of a battlefield) and untrained people gut the inside of historical buildings, leaving all of the historic context/ambience of a dentist's office.

Protecting heritage is a learned skill, and it's been learned by wise communities all over this country. With the new county commissioners in 2005, we look forward to community groups being part of planning. And we look forward to citizens being heard.

A good beginning would be a vote to save the jail building, and to set up a knowledgeable community commission set up on it to advise the county in its planning for this unique structure.

Carol Gallant
Jim Whipple
Jefferson County Preservation Alliance to Save Our Heritage

Educate yourself about local growth issues

To the editor:

I moved to Washington County in 1961 when I was 9 years old. My family previously lived in Howard County, Md.

I have been a resident of Washington County on and off for the last 43 years. There has been change in the county for the entire 43, but the most dramatic change has occurred in the last 10 years.

While portions of the county maintain their rural character, other portions have been changed to residential, business and commercial development. Many of these residential developments are served by individual wells and septic systems. With the limestone character of much of the land, one is left to wonder - how long will it be until some of these wells become contaminated?

Washington County is experiencing residential growth. One of the major impacts brought about by residential growth usually is an increase in school enrollment. The County Commissioners appear to be taking steps to require the owners of new houses to pay for new construction of schools. However, I find it difficult to believe that these fees will cover the entire cost of new school construction.

There has been debate in this county for at least the past three years as to how agricultural land can be developed. The debate seems to be continuing. As with most private property issues, the views of land owners differ from those of the government entity.

There has been considerable input by landowners and others on how development should be restricted or not restricted.

Development of any kind can be called growth, and usually government looks favorably upon growth because growth brings improved economic status, i.e., increased tax revenues.

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