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EDITORIAL: Conflicting ideas create tension in the viewshed

Cognitive dissonance is the feeling of uncomfortable tension that comes from holding two conflicting thoughts in the mind at the same time.

When Dan Fideck looks up at Short Hill Mountain he feels the tension.

Fidek is a data center architect. He says he’s stood up, designed and maintained communications facilities all over the world for some of the largest software and communications companies.

He’s also a resident of Lovettsville who finds solace and purpose in a life in the valley beneath the ridge. He finds himself leading a fight to block AT&T from building a data center near the summit of Short Hill.

“It does not escape me that there is an irony in my involvement here,” he says.

Fideck believes that without companies like AT&T we wouldn’t have experienced technological progress in the nation, or in Loudoun, over the past 20 years.

He also thinks that a data center on Short Hill ruins the viewshed between Hillsboro and Lovettsville. The questions he’s raising go to the heart of the county’s struggle with economic development and the preservation of its natural assets. How far and how much?

“Do we literally turn over mountains to achieve these goals?” Fidek asks in a petition signed by more than 250 residents of the area.

The answers are not simple. And they are not finished.

The county’s current Comprehensive Plan, implemented more than a decade ago, allow AT&T to build its facility. So county planners approved it.

“I understand that people want a beautiful viewshed,” said Commissioner Kathy Blackburn (Algonkian). “The thing is, the only way you can have a perfect, pristine viewshed is to purchase all of the viewshed. You don’t own the viewshed. You can enjoy it, but you don’t own it. You’ll have to buy it all in order to keep it the way you want it.”

That position is certainly up for debate. A new Comprehensive Plan, long overdue, might well address the delicate balance between economic development and preservation. It should.

Meantime, the county is caught in this state of cognitive dissonance. How the Board of Supervisors reconciles the conflict might give us insights into how a vision for Loudoun County might unfold.

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