Middletown, Del. is a mess, dominated by strip shopping centers, housing developments, medical facilities—and monstrous warehouses and distribution centers owned, for example, by Amazon. Once rich farmland is covered by impervious structures.
Progress? We consumers benefit from next-day delivery. We are happy. We care little about the impact of these highly visible buildings on the environment. We want what we buy online as soon as possible.
Kent County, Md., a lovely agricultural jurisdiction, may be the next victim of this peculiar form of commercial growth. Height and setback restrictions might suffer from the rush to feed the beast and deface the environment.
As a 44-year resident of Easton and Talbot County, I often marveled at Kent County ‘s uncanny ability to oppose successfully big box stores and huge wind turbines. Its fruitful stubbornness characterized this rural county, the least populated in Maryland. It refused to scar its beauty despite financial temptation.
Criticism of its anti-development isolation has seemed irrelevant to its outspoken residents.
Pressure will build quickly for county leaders and planners to approve huge distribution centers and warehouses. Accusations of blatant parochialism will abound. Loss of potential tax income and employment will mark the proponents’ arguments during public hearings.
Last summer, my wife and I visited the scenic Poconos in Pennsylvania. The rural ambience was infectious. Tree cover, pristine streams and clean air characterized the landscape. Then, we saw extremely large structures that served one purpose: logistical aids in the form of distribution centers and warehouses. Trucks and traffic would follow, as would a preponderance of impervious surfaces.
The future seemed settled in the popular Poconos.
Depressed areas, such as Hazelton, Pa., once dependent on coal, might benefit from increased employment opportunities. The implied bargain between progress and economic development and environmental sustainability would likely and regrettably tilt toward financial gain.
In adjacent Lehigh Valley, recent years have seen the construction of 29 million square feet and addition of 30,000 jobs. Discontent over the loss of farmland, impact on lakes and rivers and general appearance of huge warehouses for local manufacturers and monstrous distribution centers has proved powerless.
Its proximity to New York City and the growth of e-commerce have enhanced economic development in the Lehigh Valley cities of Bethlehem, Allentown and Easton. A pro-business culture contributes to the growth of warehouses and distribution centers.
My concern is simple: where is the balance between economic development and farmland preservation?
Where is the breaking point? I trust that question is foremost in the minds of Kent County decision-makers.
I support the opponents of the monstrous structures that will destroy the agricultural beauty of Kent County with its rich, fertile land. Discussion must be vibrant. Industry representatives must understand—perhaps counterintuitively—the inherent damage that surely will occur and try to minimize it with structures that fit the scale of a lovely county that has escaped so far woeful urbanization.
Kent County residents are well aware of the uncontrolled growth so prevalent in Middleton, Del. Its ugliness is inescapable. It is a role model for chaotic development and a distressing quality of life.
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. After 44 years in Easton, Howard and his wife, Liz, moved in November 2020 to Annapolis, where they live with Toby, a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel who has no regal bearing, just a mellow, enticing disposition.