What Does Democracy Look Like?
If you are like us, you were blissfully ignorant of how Hanover County has been running it's business over the years. Maybe that all changed when Wegmans announced plans to build a distribution center the size of the Pentagon right outside of several neighborhoods, like we discussed in this blog post. Maybe it was when you found out they actually plan to build something even larger than we originally thought as noted in this letter. Maybe it was when you started reading about the activity uncovered through Freedom of Information Act filings documented here (more to follow soon).
Regardless of when your perception changed, it might be a good time to reflect on how our government is working. At the moment, there seems to be two County Supervisors taking a critical look at the proposed zoning changes (aka, proffer removals). Both of these Supervisors have either voted in opposition to various phases of this project, or indicated that they would have voted in opposition if they were present at the meeting. The project will have the biggest negative effects on residents in their districts (but make no mistake - this will have HUGE negative ramifications for residents in other districts too).
Maybe you've heard this saying about Democracy.
We couldn't figure out who originally said this, but what a great point it makes. Its shows that Democracy only works, when all parties are considerate of the rights of others. Otherwise, you end up with an organized form of mob rule. The wolves in the comic obviously don't care about harming the lamb, as long as they get their lunch.
So far, it has been difficult to gauge the elected officials. They have obviously put a great deal of faith in the county employees that brought this proposal to Hanover. It doesn't feel like they have challenged the county planners with regard to their loose interpretation of zoning and it doesn't seem like they critically reviewed the impacts of this project as we've seen very little push back in the Freedom of Information Documents.
To site an example, Canova Peterson sent this email to a citizen in response to zoning questions and contains the following quote:
This board did not vote for this project. That was done 25 years ago. The required zoning for this project was approved in 1995 prior to the development of Foxhead. As it is, Wegmans can develop this property for this use, by right, as long as it complies with existing ordinances. Any Wegmans request for zoning action will be our opportunity to enhance existing proffered protections for neighboring properties.
This letter is quite contradictory. He says he didn't vote for this project, but he voted to give Wegmans millions in tax breaks to convince them to come here instead of choosing a better location. That is clearly a vote to bring them here.
Since the first two sentences clearly aren't true, why should we believe that he will listen to what almost every local resident has said about the proposals to change the zoning ordinances? Wegmans keeps claiming these zoning changes are for our benefit, despite clearly articulated articles that prove their assertions false. In fact, the County has accepted some truly absurd interpretations of what constitutes "enhanced proffered protections". The current proposal:
Allows truck parking in the front yard
Permits outside storage
Has a building height almost twice what is currently allowed
Uses a building structure that is prohibited
Requests that light pole height allowances are almost doubled
Allows for barbed wire fencing
Removes protections for discovered burial grounds
Removes protections for historical sites
And much more
It is clear that none of this was approved in 1995 when proffers were added to explicitly block all of these actions. What the 1995 zoning allowed was for some other form of business that doesn't need to break all these conditions. In other words, the entire reason for the 1995 proffers was to prevent a project like this. A project that WILL NOT BE BUILT, unless Hanover sacrifices the rights of citizens for the benefit of Wegmans.
Some board members have been quiet on the issue as they gather their facts. While this is frustrating for citizens, it is at least understandable that they don't want to comment without having all the information. The hope is that our last line of defense against this terrible idea for a project, the Hanover Board of Supervisors, steps in and says, "We let you work to present your vision for the project, but the facts clearly show you weren't working in good faith to protect the rights of the people. We vote "No" to all of the proposed proffer amendments, as they are clearly removals of citizen protections."
Wegmans, if you are willing to build according to the 1995 zoning, we have no choice but to accept you as neighbors, despite the very un-neighborly introduction we received from you. We didn't even learn that you were coming to our town until you ended the non-disclosure agreement, just so our Board could give you millions in tax incentives without any public input.
Now we have Wegmans asking to move forward as fast as possible, AT GREAT RISK TO PUBLIC SAFETY, as seen in this letter (last paragraph). The board is now planning to hold a public hearing on April 22, 2020.
Note that in the last email link we posted (this one), Wegmans says "We feel we have made every effort to listen to community concerns and, to the extent feasible, modify our proposal to the extent we can, without sacrificing the viability of the project. " They are admitting that the entire premise of this being a viable project is that they need too take away all our protections as residents. Remember that Canova Peterson said "This board did not vote for this project."
Actually, they did vote for it once on December 11th. They are about to vote on it again with rezoning. The current board can't blame the 1995 board (the ones that gave us protections), while jumping over one another to remove those protections for Wegmans. When people think of Hanover, it will no longer be the peaceful county with a windmill, where people move to find a better quality of life. Instead, it will be the place with all the disgusting truck terminals, that gets mocked by neighboring counties for throwing away everything that made it special. Hanover will be a soulless laughing stock.