The Zoning Board

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I took the kids to another public meeting last night.  This time we went to hear the zoning board.  Lucky for all involved, first we went to the library, so the boys had something to do.

Just to give a little bit of back-story, I was recently asked to join the board for Friends of Historic Brattonsville after volunteering for two years and getting to know several of the long time board members.  Now, Brattonsville is owned by the county as part of their museum system, but Hightower Hall, which sits on a part of the Historic Brattonsville site, is owned by the Friends of Historic Brattonsville.  Since I joined the board, that makes me a Friend, and a representative for the group that owns Hightower Hall.  Hightower Hall is a huge plantation style 150+ year old home on beautiful grounds, and is used for weddings, events, and yearly Civil War reenactments.  The entire operation for all of the combined property brings in quite a bit of revenue and, in 2014 alone, hosted over 26,000 visitors.

Well, right down the road is a landfill/ mining business of sorts.

The current dig and dump site is about five acres and has caused significant trouble for the neighbors.  Back in the day (you know – the 18th/ 19th century and such) Brattonsville Road started out as a trade route, then became a main thoroughfare, and is now a paved country road that was never made to handle dump trucks carrying gravel or logging trucks carrying full loads of timber.  But with the mining operation, that is exactly the kind of traffic travelling up and down the road, which runs right through the middle of the historic site.  The trucks have caused huge pavement issues, and the digging has caused soil degradation and water runoff onto the Friends property already.  This is all not to even mention those 26,000 visitors that cross the road twice on their tour of the grounds.  Needless to say, there is significant foot traffic on a regular basis.  Did I also mention that every publicly schooled third grader in York County is part of the pedestrian visitors crossing that road that the gravel trucks travel?

I am thinking plain sense tells people that these are not ideal neighbors.

Friends of Historic Brattonsville isn’t feeling neighborly love, that’s for sure.

And yet, Mr. Dig and Dump wants to expand his operation.  Double it?  Nope.  Quadruple it?  Nada.  He wants to expand it to around thirty acres.  Six times its current size.  And.  He wants to dig down seventy feet.  And.  He wants to only provide the minimum easements required by the county.

This gets us back to the zoning board.

Apparently only immediate neighbors have to be told about zoning issues and said neighbors are given a week’s notice.  The neighbors including Friends of Historic Brattonsville.  Plus, it is spring break, we just finished a major event, and guess who is the only board member available for Thursday night?  The homeschooling mom.  The one member that has been to one whole board meeting.  The one that has never in her life been to a zoning meeting.  The one that embarrassed herself in a TV interview nine years ago and has not been on camera since.  Me.  (I feel like this would be a good time to mention Jesus using the weak and such.  Just saying.  But I did volunteer to go, so I could also mention the whole have faith and be available part as well.)

So…here we are, sitting in the meeting, and there is of course a TV camera to follow up on the newspaper article covering the dispute, and I am quickly trying to figure out what to say when it is my time to speak, and all I can think of is what I tell my kids when we go to the grocery store.

If your fun infringes on others’ shopping pleasure, you aren’t having fun.  You’re being obnoxious and rude.

The meeting starts, business happens, and then the first item of new business comes up.  It is another company that wants to expand their mine on their land, which is in the middle of nowhere on well paved roads with their only known neighbor being an actual member of the zoning board.  They want to dig twenty feet deeper than they currently have permission to dig.  They want to provide double the minimum easement around their entire three hundred acre farm, and only thirty acres will actually be the mine.  The rest is to remain farmland.  They want to keep the mine as a dig only site.  They want it written in that they will not be a landfill.  No dumping.  Their mining is going to be used in part for state and county road projects.  (Our roads are terrible, so improving them would be appreciative.)

Item one gets approved.

We’re item two.

Representative for Mr. Dig and Dump stands up.

And he asks for his request to be deferred indefinitely.  Item one was beautiful.  And in it’s beauty, his ugly stood out.  Not to mention the entire section of dissenters and landowners and museum employees ready to speak on behalf of Hightower Hall might have been a signal that he didn’t have community support.

In the end, we all stood up and left.  Never did understand what item three was about because the boys and I went for pizza.  We didn’t win last night, but we didn’t lose.  The boys are getting a wonderful education in current local politics, and I am experiencing small town government at work.  It really is quite fascinating when you know some of the players involved.  And the next time, I will feel much more prepared.  (But I may still say what I wanted to say – If your business interferes with our business, you aren’t conducting business.  It’s called being a bully, and even two boys in a grocery store know to be better than that.)

Community Action and Twelve Year Olds

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I took the kids to their first ever community action meeting.  I cared to go, and since the husband was working, the boys got to see people come together to try to talk about and make a plan for an issue.  Now here is the deal with community action groups.  All the people in attendance are probably passionate about said issue.  But they don’t agree.  At all.  Some are local politicians trying to smoothly explain how they love their peeps, have no money, can’t vote for, but definitely support current issue.  Others are newbies to the community action arena, such as myself, and find the whole process fascinating and mildly amusing.  A few think they are in charge.  May have even called the meeting in the first place; want to be the peacemakers and delegators.  There are, of course, the local listeners scattered about that read about the whole meeting in the local paper two days prior. (These are the ones that pull in the newbies.)  And then there are the vocals.  Vocals have been spending YEARS on such issue, are P.Oed, defensive, sure its a done disaster, want smooth politicians to fix it or stuff it, and yet, despite the certain failure, Can’t. Let. Go.  These are my fascination.  The Vocals.

In this particular situation, said issue is agritourism.  The vocals are the horse peeps.  The politicians are the southern men in suits.  The rest are farmers, townies, landowners, and a few employees with city relations.

Anyway, back to the whole story.  The boys took tablets and books and sat off to the side, while I listened.  From what I gather, back about eight years ago the vocals worked long hours and several seasonal rotations to bring an agricultural tourism center to York County.  According to them, they cooperated with county council, found land, got estimates for a building council wanted, and then got turned down cold at the last minute.  County council refused to pay for it in the end, and those vocals felt deeply cheated, having done all the research and leg work.  Problem was, the center was set to operate at a million dollar loss yearly.  Now, I don’t have to be the financial whiz in town to tell you we are a relatively poor county.  We have some rich segments, but the half of the county I live in is rural.  And rural doesn’t pour money in the pot.

Well, here we are again, eight years later, and my peeps still want that agritourism center.  And frankly, they are right.  It is a great idea.  Agriculture, farming, horses, cattle, pullets, is what we got and what our county is good at.  So why not capitalize on the opportunity to bring in supporters of the local farming movement and provide our regionally renowned horse peeps and 4-H kiddos a place to show off the goods?  A centralized farmer’s market would be fabulous.  I would be so, so happy.  But.  It cannot cost millions to build and millions to run.  It cannot operate at a loss.  It has to be self supporting.  Otherwise, it is just another government project, and county council doesn’t want another project, and Dear Lord we all know government in general doesn’t need more projects.  So this new group called this meeting to discuss revamping a plan.  My local representative made lots of us laugh when he got quoted in the Herald for suggesting the Eagle Scouts build us the first shed.  But in truth, that’s about right.  I finally spoke up suggesting a list of farmers and agricultural products in the county might be a good place to start before we call in the Eagle Scouts and the land surveyors.  Maybe a web page might be cheaper right off the bat.  You know, get somewhat organized before we agree to host an equestrian show.  But again, I am one of the newbies.

Well, all the while this went on, the boys were reading books and playing on tablets.  So afterwards I asked if they’d heard any bit of that meeting.  My twelve year old, he looked up from his book.

This is where it just takes the cake.  The whole picture, from the eyes of a twelve year old.  If only adults were so smart sometimes.

And he said, “I didn’t pay attention the whole time.  But it seemed like these people want this big building on some farmland, and they want to have the council pay for it.  But the council was nice enough to show up and tell them from the start they aren’t going to.  They don’t have the money.  Well, all that did was make the horse people angry, but truthfully, he did them a favor.  If they want the place, they are going to have to figure out how to make it without council’s money.”  I pointed out that to the vocals, it felt like a door slammed in their faces once again, and that politician brought up old resentment.  But again, my boy just replied, “I know.  I feel sorry for those people.  But it isn’t that man’s fault council doesn’t have the money to build their center.  What they really need to do is make some committees, put people from the farms and people from the council together so they can learn to work together, and then figure out what we have already.  I mean, that’s where I’d start.”

I am thinking my twelve year old should take over delegations.

We’ll let you know how this issue progresses, if we hear from anyone again….