Montpelier - James Madison's estate near Orange, Virginia, is one
of nine presidential homes in the corridor.
The Journey Through Hallowed Ground is a recently approved National Heritage Area covering land in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. It stretches from such important historical sites as Gettysburg in Pennsylvania to Monticello in Virginia. It is a 175 mile strip along US route 15 and includes 13 national national parks, nine presidential homes, 73 historic districts and according to the JTHG partnership, the nation's largest collection of Civil War sites. The proponents claim that this area is "where America happened," and that failing to install measures that would preserve this area is a disservice to America and its history (JTHG website). There are vast amounts of support groups for this measure, including local government, businesses, educators, and private citizens who support the measures claiming the historical importance of the proposed heritage area. A National Heritage Area is founded "to encourage the preservation of history in areas of distinctive human impact on the landscape" and is formed to "preserve or control any land but seek to promote tourism and to conserve natural, cultural, historic, and scenic features and preserve the traditions, customs, beliefs, and folk life that are a valuable part of the national story. The National Park Service provides assistance in establishing the areas but has no ongoing role" (Source: Wikipedia). Although it is commonly perceived that heritage areas are maintained and supported by the NPS, their role is fairly minimal. To read more about National Heritage Areas see the National Park Service or the Heritage Foundation's Critique of the 38 National Heritage Areas.
The legislative act, already passed by the House of Representatives (H.R. 319), and passed by the Senate on April 10, 2008, and again by the House on April 29, 2008, will give power to a small group of environmentalists (Piedmont Environmental Council) and wealthy landowners, as well as national groups supporting the cause (National Trust for Historic Preservation) to use a one-million dollar/year grant to apply zoning and property regulations in order to protect the area. The Heritage Area, after being approved by Congress, is now eligible for the one-million dollar/year funding through matching funds. Thus one of the main goals of the JTHG Partnership is now to initiate fund-raising tactics so that it can receive the federal matching funds. The Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership, a consortium of local and national groups dedicated to the principles of the Heritage Area, will receive the federal funding and it will also make the rules to run the region and implement changes as they see fit. As is consistent with the goals of the National Heritage Areas, the JTHG Partnership will promote tourism in order to secure the legacy of the region as well as make efforts to conserve the history. The Partnership is, "dedicated to encouraging both Americans and world visitors to appreciate, respect, and experience this cultural landscape that makes it uniquely American." This includes education programs, building a network of support, creating a tourism program, and encouraging a scenic byway to strengthen the local economy through tourism (Source: The JTHG Partnership). Opponents argue that in order to implement these goals the Partnership will have to use growth restrictions and restrictive zoning methods. They also argue that because the land-use management plans that the Partnership is expected to implement already have a level of federal approval through the funding nexus, the Partnership's changes and plans for the region would not be subject to state and local approval. The Partnership however, claims that property rights protections for individuals have already been secured and that the respect and conservation of the region and our nation's history deserve these changes and the impending strategies that will exist under the jurisdiction of the Partnership.
The opposition to the JTHG National Heritage Area comes from two distinct groups - the conservative property rights advocates and in contrast, traditional environmental justice advocates. The first involves property-rights defenders such as the Heritage Foundation and select conservative groups and members of Congress such as Maryland Representative Roscoe Bartlett (R). The property rights defenders claim that this sort of strict zoning and building permit restrictions would be a sort of eminent domain abuse. This abuse, they claim in combination with the Supreme Court blow to property rights in Kelo v. New London, would effectively leave individual property rights in the region in the hands of organizations that have already shown hostility to middle and low-income homeowners. Opposition groups claim that the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership is run by groups that will not protect these rights. The Partnership, that will implement the heritage area argues that provisions in the bill would protect private property owners and the rights of citizens to appeal to the zoning. Conservative groups are also concerned about the prospect of the JTHG NHA and Heritage Areas in general because they see this legislation as a great misuse of federal funding, and moreover an assault to local rule by the federal government as it is essentially funding local land-use policy. However Heritage Areas are perfectly legal, the constitutionality of which and their adherence to the 14th amendment, have not yet been challenged in court.
The second prong of opposition comes from environmental justice advocates who claim that this legislation disproportionately harms minority populations. Project 21, a black activist group, claims that it will be more difficult for the minority population of the JTHG NHA jurisdiction to own houses because of the zoning restrictions. According to the website of the National Center for Public Policy, a 2002 study in the region indicated that restricting growth in the area would harm minority populations and make it harder for them to subsist. Environmental justice groups have put this case on their radar because of the possible regressive burden effects, although they do not argue that this area is very important historically and should be preserved. The problem arises from the property and zoning rights restrictions that would be imposed in the interest of tourism and beautification, though the JTHG partnership claims the enhancement of history is both needed and welcomed. This "land-use planning exercise," will cause trouble for middle-income and low-income residents of the area who plan on becoming homeowners (Heritage Foundation Website). Those who oppose the project claim that groups such as the Piedmont Environmental Council and other local preservation organizations have actively sought to limit the home-owning opportunities of middle and low-income residents. These said limitations have caused a backlash in the world of environmental justice advocates. For example, in some municipalities of the proposed heritage area, the minimum acreage for a family home is set between five and 25 acres, effectively limiting new home-building to wealthy families. This legislation threatens both new homeowners and people paying rent in the area, and those already living in the region who will feel the effects of higher taxes and a higher cost of living. However the JTHG NHA will undoubtedly bring more tourism and revenue to the region and most likely create new jobs for this demographic, though they may not be able to afford to live nearby. The JTHG supporters claim that property rights will be protected and that it is vital to make this region a National Heritage Area.
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