What makes living in Fauquier County special? Why here, rather than Prince William, Loudoun, Stafford, perhaps Warren, Clark or even Culpeper (all fine counties, in their own regard)? It’s a special blend of rural Piedmont, combined with culture and proximity. What our county offers, and what we desire or require as a society, is a fine balance of development vs. conservation.
Way back in prehistory, around about the early 1980’s, a Local Hero by the name of Till Hazel owned a bit of land on which he wanted to exercise his rights to develop. It’s what he did. Some say it’s in his blood. This land was in the bucolic backwater of Gainesville. At the time, the only thing there was an old floundering iron foundry and a handful of gas stations. His parcel was adjacent to property that backed up to the Manassas Battlefield. The time was right, the stars aligned, awareness came along and BANG! Protesting his audacity became Hip. Chic! One was in the “In” crowd if they hosted benefit balls and protest lines. Editorials flew like moths on an August night. Socialites rallied to the defense of the Proud Memory of the United States Civil War (ironic, now, innit?). Enough bad press was created to motivate the United States Government to step in and perform the theretofore unprecedented (and, as exercised, completely unconstitutional) act of seizing his land through Imminent Domain. I put it to YOU; How many of you have enjoyed the lovingly preserved piece of battlefield known as Stuart’s Hill? How many of you even know where it is, or that it exists?
Yeah!, Victory! Today, the Eternal Protection of our Heritage is damn near palpable, as one drives through Atlas Walk, to the Target, the Best Buy, the Lowes Hardware, to any one of the thirty or more Fine Dining establishments, perhaps to the Multiplex. Or, maybe one zooms past all the aforementioned Progress and Development, over the eight lanes of Flyover, en-rout to the OTHER Multiplex, and Duluth Trading, perhaps to dine at Pizzeria Uno and a Golden Corral (Yum!), at Parkland Center, a shopping center actually CARVED from the Real Battlefield. Aren’t we all so glad we railed and fought and defended the Honor and Memory of our Heritage??
Let’s revisit an incident a few years later. Same area. Same argument. This time, Disney sniffs around the prospect of bringing grand, first-class commercial development. Hundreds of construction jobs, hundreds of perpetual jobs. Good, secure, retirement-fund sort of jobs. And people went ballistic. “How DARE Disney even Propose to build an amusement park (An AMUSEMENT Park!!??) near our Hallowed Grounds of the Battlefields!! How DARE they even suggest such a thing?! They must be STOPPED!! We must protect our Battlefields!! Just last month, Fauquier County buried one of it’s Favorite Sons, a Philanthropist and Conservationist who’s crowning achievement was the promotion of the Piedmont Environmental Council. He was instrumental in the protection and conservation of the precious Heritage lands Disney was coveting.
Well, due to the relentless media black coverage and endless hyperbole, Disney concluded that shoving prosperity and security across the table at an unwelcoming community wasn’t worth the bad publicity worldwide. So they pulled out. Again, “Yay!!” Victory for the “Conservationists”!! Let’s remember that victory, as we sit in yet more bumper to bumper traffic. The entirety of Dominion Valley sits completely, perfectly in the exact same footprint that Disney WAS going to occupy. Aren’t WE proud of our efforts of Battlefield Preservation?! Aren’t WE grand, having kept the commercial specter of Disney at bay? Aren’t we glad we’ve kept that “Sprawl” from the doorstep of our precious Battlefield? I wonder what the Late, Great Mr. Prince thought, as he drove past Dominion Valley. Did he golf there? Was he a member of the Club? Was Dominion Valley REALLY the goal of all that Preservation of our Precious Battlefield?
Our county has, contrary to occasional belief, remained comparatively unscathed from this relentless urban sprawl. This county does not know true, real, unmitigated sprawl of quarter acre lots across the horizon, far as the eye can see. We have no Dale Cities, no Bristows, no Leesburgs, no Purcellvilles, no Centrevilles or Manassas Parks.
There are things that we want for our county. We want Libraries. We want County-wide High Speed Internet. We want spotless cell coverage. Top-notch fire, rescue and police protection. But we are rabidly protective of our rural nature. How to achieve both? How to receive revenue, but avoid the trappings of sprawling development?
Revenue is a tricky thing. It takes money to make money. Consider this: Let’s say we want to encourage industry. We hear that Delphi Corporation wants to build and operate an automotive electronics plant in the Piedmont region. Hypothetically, they are seeking a location for a one billion dollar factory. They’ll employ 1700 people, and the county will realize a revenue stream of up to two hundred million dollars. Sounds great! Lots of employment, lots of revenue. Alas, lots of families, lots of housing, lots of commuters, new schools, a new hospital, a fire house, shopping centers, and playgrounds and fast food and Starbucks and El Taco Bells. Before you know it, the entire region becomes indistinguishable from Dulles Town Center (!). Before you blink, that $200,000,000.00 is consumed and swallowed up in infrastructural support.
A medium to large Data Center can easily represent a Billion Dollar investment. The county Can realize construction jobs, real estate taxes, income taxes, and improvements to the surrounding infrastructure. A Two Hundred Million dollar revenue steam is an easy realization from a billion dollar Data Center installation. The Center will also improve local roads, power infrastructure, cooling water systems. High Speed Internet naturally goes where Data Centers are. Cellular communications infrastructure are automatically improved. No, Data Centers do NOT employ many people in their continuing operation. But that’s actually the point. We receive the billion dollar installation, and two hundred million dollars in revenue, without having to provide the infrastructure that supports one thousand seven hundred families moving into an otherwise virgin area. We may THEN take that revenue, improve our County Wide infrastructures, and we can THEN entertain Certain growth, Certain Select developments. Imagine being able to exercise discretion and discrimination, being able to Elect and Chose which developments we Allow into our proximity!
Yes, they are huge monolithic structures. Some may object to them based entirely on their aesthetics. Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder but, if the LOOKS of a structure are Truly That much of a deal killer, the buildings could be mandated to look like Dairy Barns. How the building is shaped, what color it is, is really irrelevant to the “ones and zeros” flowing into and out of the structure.
But I beseech you all. Please, PLEASE learn from Recent history. For some reason, it seems our immediate reaction to any Development, Progress, Construction, or Innovation is Knee Jerk resistance. Consider the public’s skepticism towards the innovative approaches to traffic control being proposed along Routs 15, 29, Broadview Avenue, and the Lord Fairfax interchange. If it’s unfamiliar or new, we recoil in horror and doubt. Believe me, if we summarily dismiss the prospect of “Clean” prosperity offered by Data Centers, we WILL suffer the eventual sprawl and congestion and housing and housing and housing and Burger Kings and Traffic and before you can BLINK, Fauquier County will become indistinguishable from Loudoun, Prince William, Stafford.
And that’s not a Piedmont Horse Hunt Country I want to live in. I’m a Realtor. I could make a fortune peddling McMansions all across our county. But at what cost, to what makes life here desirable in the first place?