Opportunity rising in Charles Town

September 04, 2005|By Matt Ward

Charles Town, W.Va., is poised for great progress and opportunity. If we pursue a positive vision and cooperation, we could revitalize our downtown and neighborhoods, create new jobs and economic vitality, cultivate new community traditions and activities and welcome growth that improves our quality of life. If, however, we descend into conflict and confrontation, we might not achieve any of that progress.

It is disappointing that our new Mayor Peggy Smith, in her first writing to the community since taking office (in the Spirit newspaper on Aug. 12), chose to throw negative words at fellow local officials, disparage efforts to promote citizen participation, spread missinformation and wrongly label folks as "selfish no-growthers" just because they express concern about the fast pace and poor quality of the development we are getting. Instead, our local officials ought to focus on creating a positive vision for Charles Town, and on reaching out to each other and to citizens to achieve our commonly held goals.


I realize that I am outspoken and sometimes controversial. It is true that I am an opponent of overdevelopment, and a strong proponent of smarter growth. Many folks in the community share my concerns that poorly-planned growth could hurt us. They share my beliefs that we should not be saddled with the burdens that unmanaged growth brings in the form of higher costs, increased traffic, stressed schools and infrastructure and paved landscapes. They also share my hopes for new community revitalization, real economic development, and family activities for our area.

We have a good number of challenges to this positive vision. If you ask most folks in Charles Town if they know what is going on with their local government, they shrug their shoulders. Most folks in Charles Town say that they love the city, but think it could be so much better . . . with more jobs, a movie theater, more restaurants and shops and things for families and kids to do. Most in Charles Town are afraid that aggressive developers might have too much influence over their future quality of life. Most citizens strongly believe that Charles Town should focus on the neighborhoods we have now, or on the 5,000-plus new homes that have already been approved in annexed areas, rather than annexing more and more raw land for new housing subdivisions. So, how do we overcome these challenges?

That is why the new civic improvement group, the Charles Town Rising Suns, is so important and exciting. We need to get local citizens more informed, more engaged, and more active in the future of their own community. The Rising Suns is a group that has already brought together citizens from all neighborhoods and perspectives - natives and newcomers, local merchants and commuters, seniors and young families, people in central Charles Town along with residents from Huntfield and other new and old neighborhoods. Rising Suns are promoting an agenda of community revitalization, activities for families and quality growth rather than rapid, poorly planned development. The Rising Suns will be creating new and better ways for citizens to stay informed and communicate with each other, through a Web site, an email listserve, a newsletter, a phone tree and regular community get-togethers. And, the Rising Suns are seeking to be a positive force in the community, supporting new ideas and backing local officials when they pursue a positive agenda for progress. This is what democracy is all about.

That is why we are hopeful that Mayor Smith is willing to work in a constructive way with all the folks who seek to make the community even better. The Rising Suns have invited Mayor Smith to be the keynote speaker at one of the group's first meetings. We are glad that Mayor Smith has invited Rising Suns to volunteer for some of her new "select committees" that have been formed to promote revitalization, business development and tourism. Clearly, there is great opportunity for cooperation. Yet, citizen-driven efforts like the Rising Suns will remain important - because government is too important to leave just to the politicians or to lopsided coalitions.

What we need is a positive vision for progress in Charles Town, and cooperation among all of us. Working together, we can keep the sun rising in Charles Town.

Matt Ward is a member of
Charles Town, W.Va., Council.

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