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An uncivil war with development

September 25, 2005|By Andy Macomber

In Stephen W. Sears' 1985 book, "Landscape Turned Red," the Battle of Antietam is described in great detail. In it we learn about the events of Sept. 17, 1862 when over 23,000 Americans became casualties during terrible carnage that was wrought in a single day. In its aftermath, the earth was turned in order to bury the dead, some with care and dignity, others haphazardly. It is a place where we can go and contemplate the event and only attempt to understand what it was like - a place where it will always be that September day.

Beyond the park boundaries today a new battle is raging as the earth is being turned once again. This time, however, it is for the burial of woodland and pasture under concrete, asphalt and houses. Once cannon and gunfire stripped the Cornfield at Antietam, so close to the ground it caused Union General Hooker to remark that it was "as closely as could have been done with a knife."

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Now large machines strip away the corn and topsoil to reveal the red/orange soil of a scarred landscape. Scenic roads such as Maryland routes 65, 66, 63,60 and others are now our "Bloody Lanes" where houses "charge" up to the very edge of the road shoulder to shoulder, looking remarkably similar in their "uniforms." Where the famed Burnside Bridge carried the weight of one attack that secured it for the Union, now our historic bridges bear the brunt of repeated assaults as traffic increases to volumes never seen before.

We must grow, of this there is no doubt. But how we grow is controllable so as to be complimentary and possibly beneficial to the historic and scenic integrity of Washington County. Aside from houses supposedly being cheaper than other areas, it's the main reason people are coming here. They are coming here to escape what we are now building for them: dense housing and traffic. In 10 years it will be time to "escape" again.

Several months ago in his column, Tim Rowland said that we must encourage good development along with fighting the bad. This is entirely true. However, when he said that "working with developers (would) produce more positive results," things were a little backwards. If developers wish to build in the county they must do so by our rules, even if those rules continue to evolve. If they don't want to, someone else will. Granted these rules seem to be lacking at present, but there is so much to learn from counties to the east.

Ideas?

· Require buffer zones between developments and the roads off which they are built. A minimum 100 feet of green space including trees to block some of the view or utilizing an existing tree line for the same purpose.

This would not only create a feeling of solitude for the occupants but also remove a potential eyesore from the surrounding countryside. Yes, it would be a loss of 10 or 15 houses but there is a way of life here we wish to maintain. If developers truly wanted to take care of it they would be more thoughtful. In the Sunday Sept. 4 paper County Planning Director Michael Thompson told us that a "tremendous amount of (these people are) out-of-town developers". They will build until they cannot build any more and then, with a few exceptions, leave. They won't have to look at it again: the dollar has been made.

· Limit the size of signage and entryways.

Some of this has just been ridiculous. Of course people need to know where we live but usually a street sign is sufficient. Besides we should feel pride in the house that we keep not the drive-in screen size sign at the entrance to it.

· Extend the minimum number of feet between houses.

· Given the price of homes these days we should be able to have more than an alley between them.

Obviously these do not solve all the problems but given some of the ideas out there it's a start. Are tax credits to developers for work force housing a step in the right direction? Something must offset the costs of new schools and roads, some of which are already overburdened. Especially when the upgrade of one intersection due to residential and commercial development is expected to cost $11 million. We must begin to be pre-emptive for the future, not reactionary at the present.

The Battle of Antietam on that September day had an impact that was recognized by a nation. Despite that, some decades ago, a power company tried to run high voltage lines through this sacred ground. Because of the foresight and actions of a few, the projected route was denied and an alternate found. This saved the integrity of one of the most visited battlefields in the country for future generations to study and enjoy its pristine setting. What will our planners and commissioners do for us today that will show future generations of their foresight and actions when it comes to further development in Washington County?

Andy Macomber is a resident of Boonsboro.

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