(1/4/2004) Think of
the disasters that can befall any rural
community -- fire, flood, tornado. Well,
Liberty Township in southern Pennsylvania is
facing a man-made disaster that threatens to
overwhelm it just as surely as any natural
disaster: predatory development.
Liberty Township has
the misfortune to be situated on the border
of a state that has placed strict limits on
development. Maryland jurisdictions are
urged to impose stiff impact fees on
developments to compensate for the increased
costs to local governments for roads,
schools, fire and ambulance services, police
and libraries. As a result, developers have
turned an eye on adjacent states where
controls are less stringent.
As The Post reported
[front page, Nov. 2] in the case of Liberty
Township, the Wormald Development Cos., a
well-heeled developer based in Frederick,
wants to build more than 1,100 homes as a
dormitory suburb of Washington.
These are not homes for the locals, most of
whom can't afford upscale properties costing
as much as $500,000. These homes are meant
to appeal to émigrés from the inflated
Washington real estate market 70 miles away.
development is being marketed as an "Upscale
Equestrian Neighborhood" with a folksy
Liberty Valley Village Center -- surrounded,
of course, by acres of mall-style parking.
But who would want to relocate among people
who resent and resist the incursion and fear
the effects on their tax rates, schools and
roads? Locals also fear being outnumbered
and outvoted by new residents.
Slow natural growth
has been the style of development in Liberty
Township since John Hanson ("Hance")
Steelman settled the valley in the 1700s.
First came the farmers, then the artisans
and tradesmen of Fairfield village and
eventually a few scattered homes that did
little to spoil the view. Today Liberty
Township is still a pristine American Auburn
where, to quote English poet Thomas Gray,
many a "lowing herd winds slowly o'er the
In the 1970s an
ambitious developer attempted "Charnita"
(named after Charles and Anita), an upscale
retirement community that featured ski
slopes and an airport with well-spaced homes
sited along Cessna Trail and Piper Circle.
But the sewage wouldn't perk, new
environmental laws were passed and Charnita
went belly-up after the suicide of its
developer. Today the ski area is Ski
Liberty, and the airport is the Mid-Atlantic
Soaring Center, one of the largest gliding
sites on the East Coast. But the new homes
are few, and ski slopes and airports don't
spoil the view.
The response of
Liberty Township residents to the Liberty
Valley development has been to organize. A
town meeting straight out of Norman Rockwell
saw the birth of the "Save Our Liberty"
group, as well as demands that the township
supervisors reject the development on
grounds amply documented by the county
department of planning. But although more
than 90 percent of area residents are
opposed to the development, according to
Save Our Liberty leaders, some community
leaders stand to benefit handsomely from the
sale of their lands or services. The local
newspaper has run a full-page "advertorial"
for the development company on its op-ed
page, without mentioning it was paid for.
Those who want to
sell out say they are only looking to
provide for their retirement, but the battle
between beneficiaries and opponents of the
development is joined and already bloody.
One recently elected supervisor is vocally
anti-development, but the position of the
other two remains in question.
When the British
redcoats invaded in 1776, colonial patriots
rallied to oppose them, and it took a war to
establish a new nation based on the
principles of democracy. Today "We the
People" are confronting not an army of
redcoats but a battalion of lawyers; not
cannon, but the deep pockets of developers.
"Be a Pennsylvania Patriot," we say, "Join
the Liberty Revolution today!"
campaign may seem like a revolution in a
teacup, but it resonates in thousands of
rural communities throughout America. They
wonder, "Will we be next?"
The success of
Our Liberty in resisting predatory
development will be a test case for this
growing national issue.
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