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EDITORIAL: The long view on Short Hill

Geology teaches us to slow things down.

Rocks on Short Hill mountain can be traced to the Paleozoic Era. The creation of the mountain, hundreds of millions of years in the geologic past, was both violent and dramatic. Its destruction goes on before our very eyes at an imperceptible pace.

The slow, steady forces of wind, water and ecology have reduced the mountain and others in the Blue Ridge from Sierra-like proportions to the low profile of the world’s oldest mountain range. The almost constant wind that blows across the exposed ridgetop plays an important role in the ecology, history and identity of Loudoun County.

Short Hill is about 4 miles east of the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountain, which forms the western border of Loudoun County. The valley between the mountains is known as Between the Hills and includes the villages of Loudoun Heights and Neersville. To the east of the mountain is the Catoctin Valley. A small portion of Short Hill on its northwestern slope, along the Potomac, is owned by the National Park Service to preserve downriver views for Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. The rest of the mountain is in private hands and is by and large undeveloped. Several thousand people have settled in the villages and in the valley, the viewshed of Short Hill.

Now comes a powerful force known as AT&T to change the look and feel of Short Hill. In the Communications Era, it seeks to construct installations on a strategic ridge, visible to all. The question facing those who currently steer the man-made forces of an idea that some call progress is whether to allow AT&T to alter what took millions of years to make.

Planners in a county that worships economic development have used one set of rules — guidelines from a longstanding comprehensive plan — to support AT&T’s alteration of Short Hill.

Drawn to the original plan – the one that’s millions of years in the making – settlers in the viewshed object.

A decision several millennium in the making now falls to Loudoun County’s Board of Supervisors, mere mortals who straddle the ridge between preservation and progress. Wisely, the supervisors decided last week to slow things down and delay a decision for a month.

There’s more at stake here than transmission lines or communications poles that bring us ever more data. There’s a legacy. Take your time, supervisors. Take your time.

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