Valley Forward makes an assumption.

Find the op/ed piece here.

Or the original posting of the same thing (with additional writer information) here.

I have been biting my tongue on this one for 5 days now.

So I guess the easiest way to do this is to tit-4-tat it, but I do ask that you read the piece alongside the VF document, so you can follow along.

Fiction: Valley Forward wants to destroy and desecrate the Mountain.

Fact (as I see it): Valley Forward does not have the combined brainpower to understand exactly what are the ramifications of what they do want. Each time they are called on the carpet - the definition of what they are trying to do changes - like in this piece. Now it is a "Community Center." Well, I think the mountain has one currently. Two if you count the 2nd floor of the hot dog stand in the zoo. 3 if you consider the picnic pavilion. I could go on, as there are more - hidden meeting places. Clandestine and secluded, but I am sure none of the folks from Valley Forward know where they are.

Fiction: Valley Forward will personally benefit from the Rockledge Plan.

Fact (as I see it): Directly, no they will not profit. But in the long run, as the legal wrangling and day to day operations of the "thing" grow - they will absolutely profit. Certain members of Valley Forward will take their clients up there and woo them to land major contracts, all the while writing it off as a business expense.

And this $2.5 million over 20 years? Thats $125,000 a year. A nice sum, but when split among the Zoo, the Mountain, and the greenways - well - it's equal to a good corporate sponsorship or two for the zoo. And that's still without defining profit for the "thing." Will it be after overhead? Before? Will this be some City/Enron style accounting?

Fiction: Valley Forward doesn't understand the environmental impact.

Fact (as I heard it): That's not what your old Bio Professor told me. LEED certification is nice, but untested in the long run - and means about as much as those EnergyStar appliances that still run up your bill every year. Anyway - if you are going to build something, build it smart - forget the nonsense of LEED and all the rest. Oh - and those 2 parking lots you will be adding? Won't they be on uneven ground? How do you propose to remedy this problem?

Fiction: Citizens are against this plan.

Fact (as I see it): Citizens are against this plan. It's ok to have 2 differing viewpoints on something. The company hired to survey the citizens of Roanoke has a checkered history with polling, and the methodology of this particular poll has not been made public. Put a poll online, and no - a petition does not cut it. But thanks for the strange history lesson.

Fiction: The Rockledge plan is just a restaurant.

Well, it would have been if they did not feel the need to suck up to the Fishburn family, and the public at large. But in that case, they could have kept the Inn too. Meddling public ruins everything! Although I do like the "bike racks and water fountains would be added." Now, explain to me - as a businessman - I get the bike rack concept, but why would you give water away free when you are charging for it inside?

Fiction: A restaurant on Mill Mountain will fail.

Fact (as I see it): Possibly. There are no assurances that you, your franchisee, or anyone involved with the project can give that will say otherwise. What you have is an untested theory, that people will come more to the mountain if you put food on it. A safe idea would have been to test a few hot dog stands up there, or approach the Zoo about a partnership to test the waters. All it would take is one bad winter to sink a project like this. And again, I ask - who will plow the Mill Mountain Parkway? Who will maintain the access roads, and when will Sysco deliver? And how? An 18 wheeler on Mill Mountain 2-3 times a week? 52 weeks a year (barring weather issues)? Thats some wear and tear. Not to mention a supply-side logistics problem. Putting all this on your franchisee and expecting him to be your saving grace? Insane.

Fiction: As a public park, no development was ever intended on Mill Mountain.

And here we go... Fact (as I sarcastically see it): Fishburn himself allowed construction on Mill Mountain!! What's wrong with you people! You'll upset the ghost of Fishburn, a smarter man than you!

Fact (as I see it normally): Fishburn was a smart businessman. He offered the Roanoke Merchants Association (of which he was an influential member) the space to put one giant sign advertising Roanoke for the holidays, at which time they chose the Star. Mind you - that was only supposed to last a year. The Zoo was built to give a "children's area" to the Mountain, as it had always been a popular destination for families during nice weather. It's "fee" was nearly non-existent at the beginning, it was not until the Zoo became a full Non-profit in 1975 that a "structured fee" was enacted. But through both instances, Fishburn had a greater reason in mind. Something for the community. There once was a watchtower atop Mill Mountain. For many years, one could go climb to the top and look out over the Valley. For a time, you could even shine a high-powered spotlight on your neighbors and annoy them from afar. All for a nickel.

Problem was, this tower burned twice after lightning strikes. Generally unsafe at any wind-speed, and a steep hike. Putting a Star up there seemed the next best thing. Gave a lookout point, and soon followed with an actual overlook. The Zoo gave the City community a place to go experience things they might not at home. The Central Park Zoo started much the same way. A way to bring kids into contact with "simple" animals - Cows, goats, chickens, and the like. In your average city, the odds of actually touching one of these before the age of 18 is slim. Thats why all Zoo's have a small domestic animal area, it's part of the reason they exist.

So tell me now, was Fishburn concerned about making a buck while looking good before the future environmental crowd? I say no, he was genuinely interested in giving something to this community it did not have. A place to breathe, get out and stretch their legs. And be above it all. It was an escape from the valley floor, where trains belched smoke and soot - and factories added more of the same. The buildings he would have considered adding would be the bathrooms and such, and as for the old Rockledge Inn? It was a shell.. harmless and useless and utterly defunct. In 1964, when the Mill Mountain Playhouse emerged there - it was a near miracle that the building did not collapse around them. Did he allow the presence of the Rockledge? Sure - like you allow the presence of that decorative rock someone gave you when you moved in. It's there, and until you find a use for it - it's going to stay there.

So Valley Forward, I ask you. Am I not open minded enough to grasp your stunning plan? Do you sleep the sleep of angels at night knowing this is going to be the thing that either saves Roanoke from itself, or condemns it to Hades? Have you considered asking the public directly, yourselves, without fraud or misleading questions (as you have done once before) - or did you just assume that because I am opposed to YOUR concept (not the concept of food and some light service on Mill Mountain, just YOUR concept for it), I must be "one of them" who does not wish to see Roanoke progress.

If you know anything, Lugar & Co., if you have learned anything from the times you have been here to read my blog - you should know better than that. I just try and keep an eye out for everyone's interests.

And one final question, as a non-profit entity (MMCF) would you be seeking a reduction in the property taxes you would owe the city, as the Art Museum has done?

Open your minds on that one.


Jen said...

You have very valid points about environmental impact. You did overlook the fact that numerous construction vehicles will have to drive up and down the mountain for weeks in order to build the grand inn. Gwen failed to answer this concern when I initially emailed her early in '07 - come to think of it I never got my promised reply letter by snail mail, perhaps they couldn't afford a stamp.

Also as I was riding up there tonight, I began to wonder about their proposed parking areas. If I'm correct, the area where they want to build the inn/conference room/diner is in the bowl like area behind the Discovery Center, kind of wedged above the old road. Where pray tell are the parking lots going to be? They have said, "in open areas" - well the open areas adjacent to this bowl-like area are either really sloped as you've mentioned or on the other side of the sidewalk in the flatter picnic area. So this would mean more destruction of green areas. I have heard that the MMAC is considering a playground, swings etc for the kiddies to enjoy in this area. I can't imagine that VF would have their precious patrons walk any distance.

No one, not Valley Forward, no council members have addressed the issues of whether digging up the mountain and adding concrete, asphalt etc for parking lots will increase rain water run off to the neighborhoods and river below??? I guess the flood reduction/demolition of Wiley Drive will make up for that?!?

I wonder if anyone has really looked at construction costs? For example, how deep will the footers need to be and is it feasible to even drill deep enough on that slope? Maybe I'm just a big pessimist or a tree hugger but I'm just not happy at all with their ideas.

I'm just not convinced either of how wildlife on the mountain will be affected not necessarily by the end project if it occurs, but by the noise, pollution etc that will occur during construction. I've seen more than my fair share of deer, squirrels, turkeys (not the VF guys either) and even a bob cat on the mountain. Where will the critters go?

I honestly am so sick of this City's government. They need to try to figure out what to do to make the citizens lives better before the go recruiting tourists. Man the firetrucks so that they can stay in service and ready to respond 24/7, pay the teachers what they are worth, fix the school system before its reputation gets any worse. Recruit more business to Roanoke, so that there are more jobs for people of all levels of education. This Valley is going backwards not forward and it seems they are all focusing on the wrong issues.

Anonymous said...

Check out this letter to the editor...Proves the facts aren't all out there...

Don't listen to a distant voice

I read with interest the letter from Richard F. Kegley, the great-grandson of Mill Mountain benefactor Junius Fishburn ("Fishburn was green before green was cool," Dec. 13). He correctly states that Fishburn was an advocate of green space before it was popular, but uses the argument to protest the reconstruction of the Rockledge Inn, which was part of Fishburn's gift to the city.

He also ignores the fact that Fishburn allowed the construction of a strictly commercial 88-foot neon star on what opponents of Valley Forward are now trying to convince us he intended only as a pristine natural park.

In a city that is struggling with the loss of its major employers, scant white-collar jobs, nearly half the normal percentage of young people and a dramatic overabundance of the elderly, exactly why is Kegley, who has chosen to move to Atlanta, entitled to a voice when 66 percent of the valley's citizens favor a project that would bring in travelers on the Blue Ridge Parkway, cost the city nothing and, over the next 30 years, give Roanoke millions of dollars?

Those are things his great-grandfather would understand, but then again, he wouldn't have left Roanoke.