Tuesday, July 22, 2014

In the eye of the beholder

The late U. S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Potter Stewart once observed that it was difficult to a concise definition of pornography, “but I know it when I see it.”

Goochland has about 21,000 residents who support preservation of the county’s rural character. They too know it when they see it. Arriving at a universally accepted definition is the hard part.

Google offers 261,000,000 possible answers to the query “what is rural”. Terms like bucolic and rustic, which can have positive or negative connotations, pop up often.

Interpretations of local “ruralness” vary.

In Goochland’s affluent east, rural may mean private enclaves of substantial homes on large lots that are maintained according to neighborhood rules. Leash laws, strict architectural review protocols, and rigorously enforced covenants are the norm. Landscaping is manicured, irrigated, and regulated. In spite of generous setbacks to protect the “view shed,” there are a lot of homes here.

Western Goochland is sparsely populated. Folks seeking peace, privacy, and the opportunity to do as they please when they want, settle here. Homes run the gamut from single wides to secluded estates. In general, if you don’t do whatever is it you do in the middle of the road and scare the horses, no one cares.

The rest of the county is somewhere in between physically and attitudinally.

Agricultural pursuits run the gamut from large producers like the Alvis Dairy Farm off of Three Chopt Road near Centerville to small farmsteads that produce a variety of crops. The Lickinghole Creek Farm Brewery fits into this category because some of the ingredients in its beer are grown, almost literally, in the shade of the brew house.

Farmers tend to be hard-working and thrifty. They rarely throw things away and use their ingenuity to repurpose items others would toss in the trash. This treasure in the rough, including vehicles of all sorts that may not run, is accumulated in anticipation of future needs. In the eyes of the folk who live in the manicured enclaves, this is dismissed as unsightly junk that needs to be cleaned up. Eye of the beholder rules apply here.

A few years back, a local ordinance was passed that allows the county to enter and “clean up” property considered an eyesore by its neighbors. The cost becomes a lien against proceeds of any sale of the property. That ordinance could be misused to harass the thrifty, and seems counter to the preservation of rural character.

Goochland’s beloved equestrian traditions clearly qualify as a rural attribute. The site of a horse grazing, or a rescued thoroughbred joyfully galloping beside Route 6 is a signature life savor of Goochland. But, not everyone is pleased by horses crossing their property.

The sound of shooting is also a part of rural character. Second amendment rights are cherished ad exercised here. Those with issues about gunfire might want to return to the Fan.

As with every facet of contemporary life the federal government has its definitions of rural, based--to a large extent--on population density and the distance to urban amenities including health care and jobs.

One generally agreed upon component of “rural character” is open space. People seeking peace and privacy do not want to live on top of their neighbors. Development schemes that clump homes on small lots to preserve large swaths of adjacent “open space” is touted as smart growth, but is out of sync with “rural.”

Newcomers who “love the country” but complain about the noise, smells, and inconvenience that accompany farming are another complication to defining rural. Not everyone likes to marvel at the technology that enables America to feed the world while crawling along a county road behind an enormous thresher.

Outrage over timbering is a regular occurrence. Trees are a crop too, but have a decades-long growing season; belong to the land owner, not the community. The desire control the use of land owned by someone else is yet another tricky part of defining rural.
Rural aspects of life in eastern Goochland are fading fast as development changes the landscape forever. Even there, less intense uses and lower densities than permitted in Short Pump can perpetuate a kind of rural identity for Goochland.

One size will not fit all in this endeavor. Rural in Shannon Hill is very different from rural on River Road—yet, a mutual aspiration for a gentler way of life than that offered by the bustle to the east can be a uniting force in the search for a universal definition of “rural character.”

Regardless of what we call it, Goochland is special and must remain so as it changes with the times.

1 comment:

Michael M. McDermott said...

Could not agree more, Sandy...gunfire, manure, Broad Street Road combine traffic, barking dogs and howling coyotes...Goochland, my kind of place and we need maintain our rural diversity while encouraging and embracing manageable, sensible and sustainable economic growth...