An Appreciation: Edward Galland Zelinsky
Gridlock, Ferries & Peter Grenell
Amtrak to Portland
Tiburon a town of Grace and Fun
Sprawl Is All Around
SF Taste of Greece Festival All About Choices
Bay Crossings Cuisine
Bay Area Tollpayers Race Clock To Take Advantage of FasTrakTM Discount
Drinkin’ in Dogpatch and dancin’ on the Third Rail
Middle Harbor Shoreline Park Debuts
Fall into Jack’s New Tapas
Port of San Francisco First West Coast Seaport to Install Radiation
Bay Round Up
Barrel of Fun
San Francisco Welcomes the US Navy
Boating Calendar
Berkeley Ferry Service
Community Calendar
Best Alternative for Bay Bridge Replacement Is Awarding Current Bid



Sprawl Is All Around

By Guy Span

We call it “Urban Sprawl” and bemoan the little towns, fields and woodlands around our big cities getting gobbled up for townhouse developments, some as far as 80 miles from the urban centers. The automobile (increasingly, the politically incorrect SUV) is indeed the engine that drives this cancer-like growth that seems to have few, if any, limits. We like to think of this problem as an “Urban” problem and the focus of our ineffective restraint has been around our larger cities and their inhospitable housing prices.

The Store at Childress, VA stands abandoned.

The fact is, this is more a suburban and increasingly a rural problem. For one who had a portion of his misspent childhood in a deeply rural area, revisiting that area brings two huge

A Small farm hangs on in a “View Lot” between Snowville and Indian Valley, overlooking Little River.

contrasts. First of all, in rural Montgomery County, located between the Appalachian and the Shenandoah Mountains (in the heart of the New River Valley of Virginia), we find vastly improved county roads. These roads used to be one-lane gravel affairs, patrolled and repaired by chain gangs.

Now, some forty years later, many have wider pavement and even bright, yellow lines dividing the lanes, replacing the anarchy of unlined roads. Suddenly “town,” be it Radford, Pulaski or Christiansburg is much closer and no longer the all day trek it once was. A Wal-Mart Superstore (that means it has a grocery division) moved into Radford and the little country stores out in the middle of nowhere dropped like flies. Nearly every country road has one or two abandoned general stores that also used to sell gasoline.

The little villages such as Grayson Town, Snowville, Childress and Hiawassee all lost their stores and even Main St. in Radford and Roanoke St. in Christiansburg have their own vacant storefronts. All thanks to the fact that rural residents can now drive to town in twenty to thirty minutes and find a “Big Box” store with plenty of parking near excellent paved roads.

That same mobility is having an effect on the farms and grazing land in this fairly steeply sloped mountain area. Many farms are falling to the wayside and being replaced by “View Lots” with five acres of carefully manicured lawns, overseen by “Mac Mansions.” And where there is not enough income, these lots sport single and doublewide trailers, each with its own well and septic tank. Zoning is virtually non-existent and little developments spring up anywhere someone would sell a farm.
These new residents work at the Radford Arsenal or the steel mini-mill or manage the other big box stores that serve Christiansburg. Perhaps they drive fifty to sixty miles up I-81 to work in Roanoke, a city of aquarter of a million in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley. Either way, the family farms are falling as the new residents encroach upon what was the countryside.

And of course, unless one buys fifty to sixty acres, a “View Lot” becomes a lot with a view of other homes, not the rolling wooded countryside. The county earns more off the smaller improved parcels in tax, so it has no desire to change the status quo. The farmer, whether it’s dairy, grazing, corn or Christmas trees pays a higher tax as the value of his holding increases. In turn, this eases for way for retirement, as selling in smaller parcels earns more than farming ever did.

This frightening trend shows no signs of abating and is rarely controlled by such actions as Bedford County limiting rural properties to a 3-acre minimum. Our need for more and cheaper housing, such amenities as “View Lots” and the like will continued to be fueled by cheap transportation costs until either we run out of fuel or sprawl is all around.