East & west: A new look at Rt. 3 - Orange County Review: Op/Ed

Saturday, September 20, 2014

East & west: A new look at Rt. 3

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Posted: Friday, September 20, 2013 1:18 pm

What exactly is Route 3?

We know it’s a four-lane connector between burgeoning growth centers in Culpeper and Fredericksburg. It bisects the county’s largest population concentration and crosses the Rapidan River at the Culpeper County line. It runs nearly to the front door of Germanna Community College and depending upon which study or map you use, either cuts through or edges the Wilderness Battlefield. It’s also a designated growth corridor for the county.

We’re not going to shock anyone when we say there’s always been somewhat of a disconnect between the Rt. 3 corridor and the balance of Orange County. The residents of central and western Orange County have never really known what to make of the county’s eastern end and its rampant residential growth populated largely by folks from northern Virginia. At the same time, our eastern Orange County residents haven’t necessarily identified with their crop-growing neighbors to the west and remain, if nothing else, geographically removed from the county seat where most of the decisions that affect their school children and tax dollars take place.

Orange County “traditionalists” may fear the rampant residential development of the Rt. 3 corridor will shift the county’s balance of power from protecting the county’s agricultural heritage to seeking greater goods and services of more developed neighbors to the north. While we can debate that presumed consequence, most of us can agree the collective county requires economic stimulation and progress. (And that, of course, creates a whole ‘nother debate, but we’ll leave that for another time.)

For nearly six months, county officials and staff have been working to develop a Rt. 3 vision with taxpayers and landowners, refreshingly tackling a potential growth area with a comprehensive approach to all facets of potential development. They’re thinking about water, roads and resources in a way we haven’t really thought of them before and at the same time seem to recognize retail stores and houses chock-a-block from Culpeper to Spotsylvania doesn’t seem to be in the best interests of Orange County as a whole.

Last month, county officials visited model developments and came away encouraged and so too should we, as those who want to limit growth can be satisfied that there is a regional plan in process that would facilitate growth without yielding developers free reign, while those strongly in favor of growth can be encouraged by the progress and priority of this vision and its future potential to be a major economic engine that broadens the county’s tax base.

Additionally, this isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. The county understands Rt. 3 is different and so should we. It shares space within our borders but presents a unique set of circumstances that may require exclusively specific zoning or development protocols that wouldn’t necessarily apply to the balance of the county.

Eastern and western Orange County have long looked upon each other differently. And for the first time since we can remember, that’s not a bad thing.

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