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Zoning zonks out ... zzz ... journalists

June 23, 2005|by TIM ROWLAND

Commentary

If there was ever a topic to make a journalist go face down on his keyboard, it's zoning. More aptly spelled "zzzzzoning." Well, zoning's probably a close second to sewage-treatment flow capacities, but not by much.

Those who have sensed an increased surliness on my part over the Washington County Commissioners' perpetual zoning stalemate these past several years are correct because it's the issue that won't go away.

Of all the issues to stick around forever, it had to be zoning, didn't it? The Janet Jackson overkill doesn't seem so bad, in retrospect. They've been working on this for what, five years now? Eight? Ten? I don't know.

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And I no longer care. And no one at the paper cares. I know reporters who would sooner pull their own heads off than sit through another zoning hearing. First, you have to endure the tedium of a hearing that's like a soccer game, but with less scoring, and then no matter what you write, you get blasted by both sides, by people who are convinced you are trying to undermine their positions.

And believe me, you people who feel passionately about something - not just zoning, anything - please don't flatter yourself into thinking a journalist somewhere cares enough about your piddly little issue to be biased one way or another.

We do not care. We may have at one time, before we heard the same, tired old arguments for both sides about 1,700 times. Then we just go numb, and after the next 1,700 times, we start hating both sides. Intensely. You don't know how intensely.

And this makes us twice as mean because - instead of sitting around in the company of like-minded individuals absorbing like-minded views and reading like-minded publications - we are forced to listen to both sides.

Obviously, this means there probably is no one less biased than journalists because we have been compelled to absorb an equal share of rants on each side of the issue and therefore have developed a balanced and equal amount of evil feelings toward both.

If you want to keep on thinking that journalists sit up late at night conspiring how to stick it to one side of the death-penalty issue or something, feel free. And give our regards to Vince Foster's murderer while you're at it.

I mean, on this zoning thing, I'm paid to have an opinion one way or another, and I just can't do it anymore. Don't allow another house; let the country be paved over with convenience stores and cell-phone kiosks - either one, it's all the same to me. Just make it go away. I'm pretty sure I had an opinion at one time, but if the commissioners' design in stalling for almost three years was to make me forget what it was, they have roundly succeeded.

All right, I admit I do not want to see Washington County trashed. And I don't want to see property owners rooked out of their land values. And I don't want to see the price of houses skyrocket to million-dollar levels (except for my house, of course).

But all the rest of it is just background noise anymore.

Partly, this is because I don't know what this zoning plan will and won't do and, truth be told, I don't think anyone can say for sure. People who say it will wreck land values are just guessing, as are the people who say it will guarantee a future of hideous sprawl.

For the record, I'm against sprawl in theory, although there is no one who, more than me, appreciates the sight of a strategically located Sheetz.

On the other hand, the people who are arguing that zoning will destroy property values are losing some momentum of late. What, an acre that was worth $20,000 three years ago and is now worth $120,000 will only be worth $115,000? Aw, gee.

But the commissioners have to do something, and soon. Don't they? That drought moratorium has been going on for so long, it's starting to sound biblical in its proportions. What's next, a locust moratorium?

Accounts of the commissioners' zoning hearing this week sounded much like a college student who's been putting off studying for his history of civilization final until the night before the exam and now is saying to himself, "The heck with it, let's just take the test blind and see what happens."

I know, I know, a couple of them have been working behind the scenes, but it seems to me that one's been working with VHS technology, the other Beta. And the winner will be - DVD.

Ten years from now, we'll be able to tell who was right and who was wrong, but probably not before then. Meantime, I guess the commissioners are about ready to pass something, and see how it will go - unless ... you don't think - it has been a little dry around here lately.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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