Route 15 preservation - some thoughts

"Journey Through Hallowed Ground," the nonprofit seeking planning control over historic interstate Route 15 corridor, has won House backing, and a bill is now going to the Senate for approval.

The [House] vote was 291-122. Stretching from the Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg, Pa., to Monticello, the home built by Thomas Jefferson outside Charlottesville, Va., the corridor includes eight presidential homes, 13 National Park Service properties and battlefields from the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War.
Note the significant numbers in opposition to the bill. Lest you think "developers opposing preservationists," note that the most quotable opponent of the House bill, Roscoe Bartlett, is part of the Frederick (MD) Republican establishment, which in in those (these) parts is the main anti-development party (the Democrats there being aligned with developers).

The bill was sponsored by Northern Virginia's Rep. Frank Wolf; Virginia Republicans are split into pro- and anti-development factions by region (east and west, respectively). Wolf hails from the pro-development east.

Now, ponder. You have the anti-development fellow opposing heritage designation for Rt. 15 and the pro-development fellow backing it. Which side of the issue do you think the developers themselves might be on? This is a significant clue to what's happening.

Naysayer Bartlett has developed a property rights meme, not an anti-development meme:
"All of our nation's founders knew of the intimate connection between personal liberty and property rights," Bartlett said in a statement. "The National Heritage Areas bill, H.R. 1483, and in particular, the bill's exclusive version of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground, tramples over rather than honors these hallowed principles."
I don't know why he talks up property rights - the issue fails upon first reading of the House bill. Section 5f:

Prohibition on the Acquisition of Real Property - The management entity may not use Federal funds received under this Act to acquire real property or any interest in real property. No State or local subdivision of a State shall use any Federal funds received pursuant to this Act to acquire any interest in real property by condemnation or otherwise.
Not that property buying is off the table:
Cate Magennis Wyatt [photo, right], a former Virginia secretary of commerce and trade who heads the partnership ... spoke of creating a trust to purchase land from willing sellers at fair market value. That money would have to come from funds raised privately by the partnership because the legislation prohibits the use of the federal money to buy property.
But that is not about property rights. Or is it? What Bartlett was getting at is that his neighbor might sell land to Wyatt's trust, the trust might deed the property to the NPS or a state park, and suddenly Bartlett's proximity causes restrictions to be imposed on the enjoyment of his own house and lawns. He may have lived through this actual scenario: his neighbor is Monocacy Battlefield.

Bartlett's enjoyment aside, however, this is mainly about regional tourism development, with some emphasis on development (amenities, construction, concessions). Note Wyatt's identity: former Virginia secretary of commerce and trade. What kind of background is that for an interstate-preservation board? It's 180 degrees off the mark.

With regional development planning and approval in the hands of a so-called heritage organization, it becomes possible, under political cover, to widen roads for heritage tourism; to build shopping areas for heritage tourists; it becomes possible to override the real, local heritage organizations with a development-friendly superauthority.

It also places Virginia commercial interests on the commanding heights of review and approval. Journey will not have statutory authority in and of itself, but rest assured a mechanism will be found where local plans need the requisite seal of approval. In other words, Journey will wield real power .

As non-profit machinations go - and I have endured many as a non-profit founder myself - the control of regional planning is a major coup. Will the NPS need permission to build on Gettysburg field? Perhaps not: but the planning for and placement of eyesores in and around the site may end up in Journey's hands.

Note: Cate Magennis Wyatt made her fortune as a Route 15 Leesburg developer. She and her husband own (or owned) an oil service business in the mafia-run ex-Soviet middle east. She justifies placing a developer in charge of heritage with, "You can stand outside with a picket sign, or you can be inside making decisions that respect history and balance growth with preservation." (Emphasis added.) Read more here.

New reporting from the Sun here.

Older, deeper story from WaPo here.

A Heritage Foundation report may be behind Bartlett's comments.

A rebuttal to Heritage is here. I personally am intrigued by the charge that Journey will "set up a politically connected real estate investment fund that could reap a 'financial windfall' based on quasi-monopoly profits for 'a select group of land-owners.'"