Here’s an interesting account of a land dispute in semi-rural Maryland, sent along by Sam M. Years ago, the Mullinix brothers put their farmland into a state program to preserve the land from development, and keep it open for farming. But times change and economics change, and now they want out of the program. There’s a fight over it:
The brothers have said they’ve been losing money raising corn, grain and cattle on the three tracts in Dayton and near Mount Airy. Steve Mullinix, the eldest of the three brothers, acknowledged that the past year has been better, but he said creeping development in the once completely rural western part of the county and changes in farming make agriculture no longer viable.
“If you can’t make a living farming, who cares what your profits are?” he asked. He said motorists who once showed patience for slow-moving farm equipment now honk and “flip the bird” at them.
Some neighboring homeowners opposed the brothers’ request, arguing that allowing development or other activities would ruin the scenic rural landscape.
“The choice is either farmland forever or farmland forever gone,” said Rebecca Braukus, whose family moved next to one of the three farms seven years ago. She and others said they bought homes near the farms only after being assured by real estate agents and others that the open space would be permanently preserved.
Later in the hearing, Nicole Mullinix, daughter of Steve Mullinix, recalled places where she had played as a child that are now housing tracts. “I enjoy the views as much as you do,” she said. “You ruined our views first.”
This kind of thing is going to be a big issue where I live in the years to come. As I’ve mentioned in this space before, we have a significant shortage of affordable housing in our parish. There are boundless stretches of empty land, but relatively little of it committed for development (it’s a complicated story, I’m told, but basically most of the land is held by a few families, and they do not want to sell). That market scarcity has driven the price of land through the roof, making it unaffordable for low and middle income people to build here. At the same time, the physical beauty of this parish, with its gorgeous pastures and rolling hills, makes it an attractive place for people to move to — but only the comparatively well-off can afford to do so.
Many people who live here don’t want the place to change, and certainly don’t want to see our fields turned into housing tracts. Once those pastures are gone, they’re gone forever. (Interestingly, some of the newcomers who bought land and built houses here are now among the most adamant that the ladder be pulled up behind them.)
On the other hand, many local folks are sick and tired of their grown children being unable to afford to live here where they were born. And they’re tired of the relative lack of local commercial activity.
The problem is, these factions often exist within the same person. I’m one of them. I strongly don’t want this place to turn into Sprawlsville. But I also recognize that we have to have economic growth here, and that it’s simply not right for people born and raised in this parish to not be able to afford to raise their own children here, because despite all this open space, there’s nowhere for them to buy a little piece of ground for their own house. I’ve got nieces, and I’ve got children of my own, and if they want to live here one day, I want them to have a shot at that. We’re lucky in that my dad acquired a few acres when he was a young man — enough for housing for my children and my sister’s children, if they want to build there. But most people here do not own land, or much land.
Anyway, it’s a problem, and I’m having trouble thinking through it myself, because it’s not just an abstract issue, but something happening right in my own backyard. I go back and forth.