Letter: Good intentions don’t always produce good results
I would like to respond to Michael Lane’s letter in last week’s Gazette-Journal advocating the current Highway Corridor Overlay District (HCOD) ordinance as necessary to improve the appearance of Highway 17, bring tourists to the county, and attract businesses that would provide good jobs.
The HCOD was passed in 1998 with the stated intentions of improving the aesthetics of Hwy. 17 and producing the results that Mr. Lane describes. However, we know that good intentions don’t always produce good results, and the HCOD has failed to improve Gloucester County life the way the board of supervisors originally intended. For example, the HCOD was expected to attract new businesses. But in 2012-2013 alone, 84 businesses on Hwy. 17 shuttered their operations, against only 31 new starts, for a net loss of 53 businesses. As for improving the appearance of the highway, Mr. Lane himself referred to Hwy. 17 in Gloucester as a “10-mile eyesore”—a clear indication that the HCOD has failed to make the highway more attractive despite having been in effect for over 15 years! So what went wrong?
The 1998 board of supervisors, in a classic case of government overreach, attempted to legislate aesthetics on the presumption that business owners would not make their storefronts attractive unless compelled by the county. What the board failed to understand was that money creates attractive buildings and beautiful landscaping, not ordinances … and successful businesses will bring money. And for businesses to succeed, they have to achieve market appeal at a reasonable cost.
And what the HCOD does is increase costs. Tens of thousands of dollars are needed to comply with HCOD landscaping and architectural standards, and thousands of square feet of potentially profitable floor space or parking are lost to mandated front, rear and side setbacks. While these costs are peanuts to megastores like Lowe’s or Walmart, or to nationally franchised fast food outlets, they can mean the difference between success and failure for local entrepreneurs.
The good intentions of the HCOD have succumbed to the law of unintended consequences. Whereas planned community advocates saw the new franchise chains and dreamed of a 15-mile-long Reston Town Center, realists will see the abandoned homes and empty storefronts that are becoming more commonplace—as owners are unable to find buyers willing to pay fair value for the land plus the county-mandated costs for architecture, landscaping and sewer.
The Great Recession has not yet left Gloucester County. The board of supervisors has a responsibility to the people of the county to revamp the HCOD ordinance, as well as other ordinances, so as to eliminate unnecessary restrictions and costs, and to provide sorely needed opportunities for business and revenue growth. And this we will do.
John C. Meyer Jr.
Gloucester Board of Supervisors