Tale of Two Counties
Stafford & Clarke Counties, VA
Script & Photography by George Sibley
Environmental Education Chair
Falls of the James Group, Sierra Club
1. WEATHER CHANNEL ANNOUNCER & TORNADO ALERT
When our photo crew was staying in Winchester working on this slide show, they ran into some really bad weather. At one point a tornado actually touched down and headed right for them.
2. TORNADO WARNING FOR WINCHESTER
The tornado would have struck the town in 10 or 15 minutes if it had kept going. Luckily for Winchester and for our people, it didn't. Shortly afterward, though, a tornado did a lot of damage not far away in Maryland.
3. LIGHTNING OUTSIDE HOTEL
The crew was pretty impressed. They felt they had just been given a powerful lesson that was closely related to the project they were working on -- namely, that a storm has less chance of hurting you if you hear about it in advance. So, here's your tornado warning!
4. TITLE: "A Tale of Two Counties"
This is a story about Progress -- a story about Growth and Success. Because these things have usually been discussed in economic terms, it's also a story about Income and Taxes, Business and Services, dollars and cents.
5. MAP: CLARKE AND STAFFORD COUNTIES HIGHLIGHTED
Clarke County in northwestern Virginia and Stafford County in the north-central part of the state are both about the same distance from metropolitan Washington DC.
6. DAIRY IN STAFFORD COUNTY
Thirty years or so ago, these 2 counties looked much alike. Stafford is almost a third larger than Clarke in area, but both were mainly agricultural then. Stafford had a lot of dairies.
7. ORCHARD IN CLARKE COUNTY
Clarke had a lot of orchards.
8. SPLIT SHOWING DAIRY & ORCHARD WITH $$ VALUES SUPERIMPOSED
As late as 1987, the value of farm land and farm buildings in both counties was still similar-- about $460 million in Stafford, $437 million in Clarke.
9. HISTORIC ESTATE IN CLARKE
Both counties were proud of their country heritage and strong historical connections. Each had buildings surviving from colonial and Civil War times. This is "Long Branch" in Clarke.
10. HISTORIC SITE IN STAFFORD
This is "Belmont" in Stafford. Population in the 2 counties was similar also -- a bit higher as you'd expect in somewhat larger Stafford. But all that was about to change.
11. GRAPH SHOWING RELATIVE CHANGES IN POPULATION, 1950-1990
Beginning in the 1970's, the 2 counties became hugely different in population. Stafford, only a third bigger in area, had 8 times the population of Clarke by 1996.
12. AUTO-ORIENTED COMMERCIAL STRIP IN GARRISONVILLE
That growth has had some striking effects. Thirty years ago, Stafford could have easily been mistaken for Clarke and vice-versa. Today the 2 counties are very different.
13. PEDESTRIAN-ORIENTED NEIGHBORHOOD IN BERRYVILLE
Clarke County and Stafford County look the way they do now as a direct result of the development plans the governments of those counties made around 1980.
14. "BIG GOVERNMENT" SHOT OF WASHINGTON DC AREA
Both counties were influenced by the growth of jobs and the consequent influx of people which led to the increased expansion of the greater Washington DC metropolitan area.
15. CHART SHOWING PEOPLE WHO WORK OUTSIDE COUNTIES
Both became commuter counties, with 60% of Clarke's workers and 70% of Stafford's going to jobs outside their county of residence.
16. HOUSING DEVELOPMENT IN STAFFORD
Stafford, on the major Route-1/I-95 transportation corridor, felt the pressure first. Developers began turning farmland into houses for commuters who worked in the metro area.
17. BULLDOZER & NEW HOUSES
People made money from these developments. More houses in the county meant more profits for contractors and real estate companies -- although not all of them were based in Stafford -- and more personal and property taxes.
18. SIGN IDENTIFYING STAFFORD AS A CERT. BUSINESS LOCATION
This seemed like a good way to improve county revenues. If growth was happening anyway, the Stafford County government figured they could turn this to their advantage by adopting an aggressively pro-growth position.
19. PRO-BUSINESS PRESS REPORTS ABOUT STAFFORD
Stafford went out of its way to accommodate growth, several times changing its zoning regulations to more closely fit in with developers' plans.
20. GEICO BUILDING IN STAFFORD
Growth Stafford wanted and growth Stafford got. But what developers wanted was growth on cheap land. That meant growth outside existing population centers.
21. NEXT PHASE OF CONSTRUCTION STARTING AT GEICO
So the county had to get big money to extend water and sewage lines and widen roads in areas where there had only been farms and rural traffic before.
22. CLUSTER OF DEVELOPERS' SIGNS
But the county was on a roll. Nobody worried much about the cost of expanding services. People assumed that would be covered by additional revenues brought in by an expanding tax base.
23. SPLIT SHOWING 4 NEW STAFFORD DEVELOPMENTS
Between 1980 and 1990, over 7,000 new houses were built in Stafford county, almost all of them in newly created neighborhoods.
24. AERIAL PHOTO #1
In 1988 this is what the I-95 corridor in northwest Stafford County looked like. I-95 is the double line in the lower right of the picture.
25. AERIAL PHOTO #2
Here's the same area 10 years later. Again, I-95 is the double line on the right. This is what we mean by suburban sprawl. And it's no accident we're pointing it out in relation to roads -- one of the characteristics of this type of development is that it depends on privately owned cars to tie its various components together.
26. STAFFORD DEVELOPMENT
Vista Woods and Hampton Oaks, Old Forge and Cherokee Falls -- one development after another, often named after scenery that had been bulldozed away during construction.
27. "TYPICAL" DEVELOPMENT STREET
It was the American Dream: a place of your own in the country -- with not a sidewalk or a store in sight. No problem: everybody around here has their own transportation.
28. COMMERCIAL STRIP SIGNS
Growth Stafford wanted, and growth Stafford got. Close to the interstate, franchises multiplied like rabbits while cows - - and dairies -- disappeared.
29. US17 STRIP
Eight lanes of traffic and a row of malls: this became Stafford County's main shopping street. Here's what it looks like on an ordinary weekday when it isn't even rush hour.
30. DOWNTOWN BERRYVILLE
This is Clarke County's main shopping street. It's actually called Main Street, in the town of Berryville.
31. SHOPS ALONG MAIN ST, BERRYVILLE
At about the same time that Stafford's county government decided to face the future by recruiting as much growth as possible, Clarke County's government decided to grow carefully and in stages.
32. 5C PARKING METER IN BERRYVILLE
In terms of illuminated signs and strip malls, Clarke County's growth has been so slow it's almost invisible. (When's the last time you saw 30 minutes for a nickel on a parking meter?)
33. CLARKE COUNTY FARM
Despite a rocky landscape which seems much less suited to farming than Stafford, Clarke mostly kept its money in farms.
34. HAYING IN CLARKE
Many of the farms in Clarke are small- scale, family operations. People usually stick with this kind of work because they like it, not because it makes them a lot of money.
35. OPEN LAND IN CLARKE
More often than not, Stafford has considered the highest and best use of open land to be residential and commercial development. Clarke decided that places like this have value in their own right. That points up a major difference between the two counties.
36. PED/BIKE SIGN IN CLARKE
Clarke County decided that economics was not the only important value for its citizens. It came up with zoning regulations and a county development plan which tried to protect and sustain other things its people value too.
37. BERRYVILLE NEIGHBORS TALKING
Things like sidewalks, and keeping neighborhoods small enough that people still talk to one another.
38. RENOVATING A BERRYVILLE SHOP
Things like reusing empty buildings you already have before putting up something new somewhere else.
39. BURWELL-MORGAN MILL MUSEUM IN MILLWOOD
Things like restoring an abandoned 18th Century mill instead of tearing it down, and then turning it into a county museum so it can partially pay for itself.
40. BERRYVILLE RESTAURANT DECORATED WITH KID PICTURES
Clarke County chose local restaurants with kids' pictures on the walls over fast-food outlets.
41. CLARKE HEALTH FOODS STORE
It chose small-scale -- some would say "human scale" -- incremental development building on existing business locations.
42. CHART COMPARING PER CAPITA INCOMES
But guess what. After all the self- conscious economic development in Stafford, the per capita income is 25% higher in Clarke.
43. CHART COMPARING PROPERTY TAXES
And in spite of all the recruitment of new businesses in Stafford, property taxes are nearly 30% lower in Clarke.
44. FARM FIELD IN CLARKE
By making a conservative development plan and sticking to it, Clarke County has been able to have its cake and eat it too.
45. CLARKE COUNTY COURTHOUSE
For one thing, it only spent money on additional facilities and services as it needed them -- and growing outward from existing facilities and services, it needed them less often. These are the Clarke County courthouses, the historical one on the left (still used for Juvenile Court and General District Court), the new one in the center. Most county offices are in the new courthouse, along with the County Circuit Court.
46. STAFFORD COUNTY COURTHOUSE
This is Stafford's new courthouse. It's only a courthouse, and it stays busy. More people means, among other things, more crime.
47. STAFFORD COUNTY GOVERNMENT CENTER
Stafford county offices are next door in a new $20 million government center. Economic development takes a lot of people.
48. VIEW LOOKING ACROSS THE STREET FROM GOV'T CENTER
Stafford is spending a lot of money developing new business locations, but it hasn't paid much attention to old ones -- not even in the town of Stafford, the county seat.
49. EMPTY STORE ACROSS FROM GOV'T CENTER IN STAFFORD
There are abandoned stores right across the street from the new county government center.
50. VIEW OF CLOSED BANK WITH STAFFORD COURTHOUSE IN BG
The bank across from the courthouse is closed, its parking lot turned into an improvised display area for people selling used cars.
51. ABANDONED STORE IN STAFFORD WITH BOAT FOR SALE OUT FRONT
There's a boat for sale in front of an empty store down the street.
52. STAFFORD GOV'T CENTER FRAMED BY GAS STATION
Stafford County has married itself to residential and commercial growth, but growth can be a fickle partner. Business development generates revenues, but it also attracts more people-and residential development costs more than what it generates in taxes.
53. CHART SHOWING RESIDENTIAL SERVICE COSTS VS. OPEN LAND COSTS
Put another way: farms and open land are not only by themselves almost as profitable to a county as commercial development, they also have the added advantage of [do] not requiring the services that make residential development so expensive. It actually pays local governments to keep farmers in business, because farms keep taxes lower than development does. [For every dollar of taxes from residential development, the county has to spend $1.34 in services to residents. For every dollar of taxes from farms, the county only spends 30 cents in services for farms.]
54. CHART SHOWING UNFUNDED DEBT
Look what happened to Stafford. It went hugely into debt bringing new development into the county. It currently owes 4 times as much per capita as Clarke, $2000 for every person in the county.
55. BILLBOARDS IN STAFFORD
There can be such a thing as too much development.
56. ABANDONED MALL STORES IN GARRISONVILLE
Encouraging development at any cost invites an increasingly cannibalistic competition in which developers are constantly trying to outdo one another to get a piece of the pie.
57. SIGN FOR RESTAURANT "ONE MINUTE AHEAD"
There's always somebody new offering something bigger, better, even closer than what you already have.
58. FAST FOOD RESTAURANT ACROSS FROM HISTORIC SITE
Where does it stop? Sometimes it doesn't. Because Stafford thinks all growth is good growth, it now has a fast food restaurant within sight of George Washington's boyhood home.
59. MAP SHOWING STAFFORD SCHOOL POPULATION
Development along transportation corridors in Stafford pushed new homes and new businesses away from previously existing development. For example, this is a map showing the school population density in Stafford. It's almost completely outside the town.
60. STAFFORD SCHOOL BUS
Schools are an excellent yardstick to measure how well a county operates, since they typically account for three-quarters of a county's budget.
61.STAFFORD ELEMENTARY SCHOOL WITH BUS OUTSIDE
Stafford's school planners have done an excellent job of keeping up with the county's growth.
62. CONSTRUCTION AT NEW STAFFORD HIGH SCHOOL
Stafford is the fourth-fastest growing county in Virginia, in the top 1% for growth of all the counties in the US. During the past 10 years, they've built 3 elementary schools, 2 middle schools and a high school.
63. BUILDING AN ADDITION TO A STAFFORD MIDDLE SCHOOL
They've added on to 12 elementary schools and 4 middle schools in the same period. It says a lot for Stafford's school planners that there was a good classroom for every Stafford student during all this growth.
64. STAFFORD SCHOOL ADMINISTRATION OFFICES
A few school department officials wound up in trailers, like the ones in the back left of this picture, but never students.
65. CHART SHOWING PROPERTY TAXES VS. SCHOOL EXPENDITURES
That's really impressive, because even though Stafford has one of the highest property tax rates of the 95 counties in Virginia, it's in the bottom third of the state's counties in terms of what it spends per student on education. [Stafford tax rates are high. However there are so many students that the money available per student is low.]
66. SCHOOL BUS ON A WINDING, RECENTLY WIDENED ROAD IN STAFFORD
Good as it is, Stafford's school system would be even better if it didn't have to pay for things like improving county roads and putting in water lines where a new school is going to be built. That's money which could be spent on textbooks or additional teachers, but the county is so overextended that the school department has to carry some of the load usually borne by other county departments.
67. ROAD AND SCHOOL IN CLARKE
In Clarke County, schools don't have to be wedged-in like afterthoughts between development projects.
68. SIGN FOR "A VA MAIN STREET COMMUNITY" IN BERRYVILLE
All growth is not good growth. Clarke decided to keep its growth where there were utilities and services able to handle it -- mostly in Berryville, the only town of any size in the county.
69. CLARKE COUNTY DEVELOPMENT PLAN
The county's development plan specifically identifies the Berryville area as the designated growth area for the county.
70. AERIAL SHOT SHOWING DEVELOPMENT IN BERRYVILLE CLOSE TO TOWN
By keeping development compact and close to town, Clarke County has better controlled the costs of growth. Development is largely paying for itself.
71. FOOD LION STORE NEAR HOUSES IN BERRYVILLE
Building on what it already had, the county's growth better benefits the businesses and the citizens of the county. This new supermarket, for example, is within walking distance of both new housing and some older Berryville neighborhoods.
72. SPLIT SHOWING 4 CLARKE NEIGHBORHOODS
Investing in existing communities makes sense. Development costs, and before we start paying for it in terms of higher taxes and longer commuting times and less open space we need to ask ourselves if what we're getting is worth what we're paying for it.
73. HISTORIC PHOTOS IN STAFFORD GOV'T CENTER
Does history have economic value? Stafford has a gallery of pictures in its new government center showing historic county buildings, but spends no money protecting the buildings themselves.
74. GIRL SITTING IN FRONT OF MILLWOOD MUSEUM
Clarke County put money in an inventory of historical resources and prints maps with driving tours of historical sites. Its museum in Millwood is a focal point for visitors -- and visitor dollars.
75. "HAPPY BIRTHDAY BERRYVILLE" SIGN
You don't have to be a hopeless romantic to see that civic pride and historical traditions are good for a community.
76. CHART RECAPPING CLARKE INCOME AND TAX ADVANTAGES
The facts speak for themselves: growth alone is not necessarily progress. Clarke County, which chose to grow conservatively, has a higher income and lower taxes than high-growth Stafford.
77. MOTORCYCLE COP IN GARRISONVILLE
Does crime have economic value? Does traffic? Growth is never only about revenues. Development costs, and progress is more than just economics .
78. AMBULANCE IN GARRISONVILLE TRAFFIC
This is an ambulance stuck in traffic in Garrisonville, Stafford County. And right about now at least a few people in Stafford County are thinking about the problems of growth in very non-economic terms.
79. EMERGENCY VEHICLE LIGHTS AT NIGHT
Growth costs longer response times for police, fire and emergency vehicles.
80. AMBULANCE CREW AT WORK
The more roads and buildings you have, the more transportation delays. Delays are critical in life-threatening situations. We can reduce them up to a certain point by increasing our emergency services, but that gets us back to economics again.
81. DAYCARE KIDS OUT FOR A WALK IN BERRYVILLE
Do the sidewalks in Clarke County save lives? Maybe.
82. ROADSIDE MEMORIAL IN STAFFORD
In Stafford the roads are so dangerous even the professionals are getting killed on them. A State Trooper was run over directing traffic at an accident site here.
83. ATMOSPHERIC COFFEE SHOP IN STAFFORD
Neither Clarke nor Stafford counties have cornered the market on Progress -- or even on cute restaurants. This one happens to be in Stafford. But looking at two counties which have taken such opposing positions on growth has brought out some important points about the nature of growth and what it involves.
84. EMPTY STORES IN SAME MALL AS COFFEE SHOP
That coffee shop turned up where it did because a lot of the space in this mall which was intended for retail stores never got filled.
85. AQUIA MALL PARKING LOT HARDLY BEING USED
On the face of it, turning mall space into a coffee shop in Aquia is not much different from turning a house into a library in Berryville. Both convert potential liabilities into assets.
86. BERRYVILLE LIBRARY
But there's a really big difference in scale. It's always a lot easier to do things right in the first place, or at least to fix problems while they are still small.
Virginia Chapter, Sierra Club, Falls of the James Group, 804-225-9113. George Sibley, script & photography, environmental education chair. Alex Hagan, research & assistance. Marc Redmond, graphics.