Friday, June 03, 2011
In 1998, President Bill Clinton hosted leaders from the Middle East in Wye Mills, Maryland, a small and historic village that takes its name from the river that flows not far away, south and west to the Chesapeake Bay. It was a summit meant like so many before it, and indeed after it, to broker peace in a region of the world where that word was little more than an abstraction.
In Wye Mills, peace is anything but an abstraction. A community that straddles the border of Queen Anne's and Talbot counties, it is not a difficult place to miss. Like so many Eastern Shore towns, it appears at first glance to be little more than a place where the speed limit abruptly slows, and then gradually rises again to accomodate the pace of life of those just passing through.
Wye Mills has been a quaint hub of rural industry little changed in three centuries. When Washington took his troops across the Delaware, the mill turned. When 600,000 Americans lay dead or dying on homegrown battlefields north and south, the mill turned. When American boys stormed the beaches of Normandy, thousands of miles away the mill quietly turned. As Richard Nixon prepared to give his resignation speech in front of an unforgiving camera in the Oval Office, just across Chesapeake Bay from Washington the mill, as always, turned. When terrorists brought our world to a halt in 2001, Wye Mills turned still. For more than three hundred years, the mill has turned, marking the passage of time; serving as a symbol to the world at large that the river of life runs on. Perhaps the reason it has remained virtually unchanged is because change is not always necessary.
Nothing is sacred.
Drastic change may be headed for sleepy Wye Mills. Predictably, the effort comes from nearby landowners; they'd like to disregard the county comprehensive plan and take advantage of a generally pro-growth board of county commissioners by having their agricultural land rezoned for commerical use. What are now fields of crops would assuredly become seas of concrete; towers of brick and mortar would rise to meet the sun and the rain, in a place where, for as long as anyone can or cares to remember, only corn, wheat and beans greeted the weather. The character of Wye Mills, unashamedly rural for time immemorial, would be forever altered.
Little makes sense in this plan, except possibly the thinly veiled personal greed. It is contemptable to listen to land speculators carry on about the county's need for jobs and commerical revenue as they attempt to justify their own real estate conniving. Let's not pretend anyone is offering their land for sacrifice to the great consumptive commercial machine for the sake of Queen Anne's County and her citizens; that demeans everyone. No, the landowners are simply in the money making business, and there is nothing wrong with that, so long as we call it what it truly is.
The trouble with this plan is that its tough to see how it does anything but cost Queen Anne's County in both the short run, and the long. There is no sewer capacity in Wye Mills for extensive new development, which means that a wastewater treatment facility would have to be built and sewer lines run to the properities in question, costing the county millions. The development would take place on diagonal corners of Routes 50 and 213, further tying up an already jammed stop light that forces drivers to slow and stop quickly from high cruising speeds, often on their way to the beaches. The traffic situation would surely devolve further, eventually requiring an expensive overpass that would mean years of construction and further millions of state and county road dollars, dollars that neither the state nor the county currently have.
But the more serious problem for the people of Queen Anne's County is a little more difficult to see. It was, however, explicitly stated in the June 2nd Record Observer, by the attorney for one of the landowners in question. His logic made the rezoning seem as natural and inevitable as the Wye River tide itself. You see, the reason we need to rezone and develop these two agricultural parcels is simple in his estimation: the other two corners of 50/213 are already developed. This is obviously true, one corner boasts a gas station, the other the campus of Chesapeake College. Following this logic a little further however, one finds doom for the rural Eastern Shore. For it is the very definition of sprawl, a growth begets growth recipe for lining the Route 50 corridor with endless commercial development, from Wye Mills west to the Bay Bridge, and eventually north up Route 213 to Centreville. In the article the attorney says that his client is not trying to develop the rural hinterlands, but this is a damnable step in that very direction.