I’ve written before about my disgust every time I drive through Middletown, DE on my way to Philadelphia. Very recently, I endured this personal misery three times in consecutive days,
I experience Middletown and then always ask myself: why did this nice town become ugly? I see no evidence of rational planning. I ask: why? What were local officials thinking when they destroyed a once pleasant crossroads, surrounded by fertile farms, and replaced it with a mish-mash of residential and commercial development? My questions go unanswered.
As I drive through mismanaged Middletown to reach the fast-moving Route 1 and Route 95, I gird myself for congestion and incoherence. I groan, needlessly.
To prepare myself for the slough through this town, I deliberately snake my way along the pastoral roads of Ruthsburg and Price in Queen Anne’s County. I love the tranquility, the soothing stillness before experiencing the mess called Middleton. I brace myself with a taste of calm.
For full disclosure: I do stop at the WaWa in Middletown. I like the customer service—and the restroom.
I think about the Eastern Shore and the value of productive land preserved by the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy and effective state initiatives, such as Program Open Space, Rural Legacy and the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation programs. I am thankful our state, as well as some counties, have embraced the culture and policies related to sound and sensible land management.
Like others concerned about preserving land and our desirable, reasonably unfettered quality of life on the Shore, I feel grateful to Gov. Hogan and the General Assembly for approving legislation in the 2016 session to restore Program Open Space funding to full and consistent cash funding by fiscal year 2019. Meanwhile, the upcoming two budgets will have a total of $61.5 million in available money diverted (bureaucratic wording for legal thievery) in the past to balance prior budgets. If the POS budget is diverted again, the governor must include a way to restore a third of the cut over each of three successive years.
The operative word is stability. Open space will be preserved without the fear of being used for other purposes during down times. Call it a lockbox of sorts–mostly impervious, but not entirely so to raids by governors anxious to balance budgets by yanking money from land preservation.
However dire the circumstances–and they were mightily so, 2009-2011–I always cringed when land preservation funding fell victim to budgetary shortfalls. Cash was taken, replaced by bond money. Land was preserved. State debt increased.
While I realize that saving land from sometime wanton exploitation by real estate developers (not all) may seem secondary to funding education and social services, I think the long view can easily get lost during economic stress. Keep farmers farming, grow crops instead of houses and preserve a certain degree of peacefulness and a sense of place inherent in a rural environment–that’s a worthy ideal.
So, a taste of Middletown, DE leaves lingering distaste. It represents development gone amuck. Its past charm as a farm center has evaporated.
Land preservation is a sensible strategy. The governor’s support of stability in Program Open Space is a wise investment in the future.
The value lasts, hopefully, for perpetuity.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.