The Palouse is an incredibly beautiful place. While traveling elsewhere, I have pointed to the ubiquitous Microsoft screensaver with the rolling green hills and said with pride, "That is where I live."I, for one don't live in a "screensaver." In the real world, as opposed to Ms. Meier's academic world, we live in a living, breathing, working community that has needs like affordable family housing, adequate retail, and a thriving tax base to keep the schools open, the fire and police departments staffed, the streets paved, and the water flowing. Wealthy professors like Meier and Jim Krueger move here from somewhere back East and expect Pullman to be like DisneyWorld I guess, beautiful scenery with no visible support or infrastructure so as not to disturb their little corner of paradise.
I fear that we may be taking this natural beauty for granted. In the course of discussions about public policy in Whitman County, I cannot recall seeing anything that specifically addresses issues concerning landscape, terrain and green space.
A couple of ongoing construction projects serve to illustrate the point. On Military Hill in Pullman, a development called "Meadow Creek" is being built opposite the high school. The name itself is ironic. In order to create access to the new housing development, a charming little valley has been partially filled in with massive amounts of soil to generate a roadway. The fill has obliterated a large section of the meadow, along with part of the creek (which now flows through a culvert). This is a rather major reworking of the local landscape, but I do not recall seeing any discussion of public hearings in the local press. It is possible the finished project will be gentle on the eye, and it will certainly provide much-needed housing, but I find the apparent lack of discussion about the larger issue disturbing.
Another interesting development is the small retail mall nearing completion along Bishop Boulevard. The building is attractive enough, and the retail space should be a great addition to Pullman. Again, what concerns me is a lack of debate about the location and design of the project. The new building sits along the bank of the river. Trees that had once been planted for public beautification were torn out along the riverfront, although some trees remain. The windowless back of the building faces the river. Aside from flood concerns, which certainly must have been addressed, the building seems to make poor use of a potentially scenic site in order to maximize frontage along Bishop Boulevard. I would have expected such a project to be scrutinized in a public hearing.
I have been saddened to read some recent letters to the Daily News stating landowners should be able to do whatever they want with their property, without any public oversight. Such an attitude seems to fly in the face of the concept of "civilization."
Some cities, such as Houston, have been notorious for laxity of building or zoning codes. This can result in an unfortunate hodgepodge in which liquor stores are situated next to day-care centers (as an example). In a city with geographical features as varied as ours, lack of public oversight can potentially result in significant remodeling of the landscape, or in buildings that disrupt their surroundings. While such developments may temporarily increase tax revenue, it is not in the long-term interest of a community to lose the very features that make it unique.
Since I am not serving as an investigative reporter, I have not scrutinized the local and state regulations that apply to the examples cited above. I can only comment that the level of public input in Pullman is much lower than what I have seen elsewhere. The idea that there can be only one public hearing on land-use issues is foreign to me. In our previous community (on the East Coast), such issues were subject to three hearings before the zoning and land-use board. The first hearing served to get people involved, as the local newspaper would report on the discussion that occurred. For a high-impact issue, more residents would then attend the subsequent meetings, bringing more data to support their viewpoints. Numerous residents were able to speak out at the meetings, and their opinions definitely made a difference. Participants in the meetings were able to hear both sides of the issue, and to see firsthand how consensus and compromise were reached by their officials. In Whitman County, petitions and letters to the editor appear to be a major means of public input, but I do not find them as effective as live public debate. If current policy actually prohibits more than one public hearing on issues that significantly affect our future, then perhaps it is time to change the policy.
PRIVATE PROPERTY RIGHTS ARE THE BASIS FOR CIVILIZATION!!! What is Meier thinking?
I can tell you that I drive (and walk) past the proposed Meadow Creek subdivison every day and it was not a "charming valley." It was just a weed-covered depression between two hills as you see in hundreds of thousands of other places on the Palouse. Give me a break.
So Ms. Meier wants her personal aesthetic tastes to trump private property rights, affordable family housing, adequate retail, and a thriving tax base? Washington's regulations are already perfect for Ms. Meier and the NIMBYers. All it takes is a few people to get a burr under their saddle and a developer's project is either cancelled or held up for years. Pullman like Houston? Please. If only we could be as prosperous as a city like Houston, but we never will because of selfish snobs like Meier and the outrageous environmental laws in Washington.
I am going to wrap up by quoting from a Mesquite [NM] Local News editorial I used a while back. It utterly destroys Ms. Meier's arguments and those of her ilk:
It’s ironic that residents of this gated community have started a petition to stop development of a new housing project because of their claim that the construction will “destroy the beautiful mountain ridges, bluffs and natural desert areas adjacent to Copper Bluffs.”
The irony is that they are living in a neighborhood that was only made possible after the land where their houses are now sitting was similarly carved and shaped to accommodate the construction.
It’s become a common cry in Mesquite for people whose homes often sit atop regal perches that were once deemed beautiful landscape features to now rail against the same kind of desecration that might mar their views.
More importantly, it’s un-American to tell a legitimate land-owner that he cannot use his land as he sees fit because it might “mess up somebody’s view.”
As has been pointed out before, you can’t buy a view, even when you’ve paid a half a million dollars for your house.
The only way is to get together with other like-minded neighbors and purchase the land, then apply deed restrictions to keep it pristine and untouched.
But the truth is that most homeowners aren’t willing to “put up or shut up” and tie up their own money to protect their surroundings.
Instead, they insist that their governments use tax dollars paid by all of us to buy the land to preserve their high-dollar views.
Or coerce their government officials to use building permit restrictions and zoning filibusters to accomplish the same goals, shutting out new residents hoping to taste that which has drawn the current homeowners to this desert delight.