COMMENTARY: Should Have Torn Down Old School


April 21, 2014

As a new resident, I’ve been impressed by the town’s dedication to preserving its past. I love that Cape Charles has a “historic” designation, and I admire residents and leaders steadfast about preserving its quaintness and personality.

In the town’s zeal to protect its legacy, however, I fear some have lost perspective about what’s worth preserving. The lines between “historic’’ and “nostalgic’’ have become fuzzy.

I live near Central Park and enjoy my strolls there and hearing the kids playing, the fountain flowing, seeing residents walking pets, pushing baby strollers, playing soccer. Like its beautiful old buildings, the park defines Cape Charles. It’s where we gather, recreate and bond. The beach and park unifies us, as much as our local pubs and churches and shops.

With that in mind, I have been head-scratching about the old school. Frankly, I was stunned by the rancor swirling in such an otherwise civil and thoughtful community. The accusations, lawsuits and bitterness seem shockingly out of character. There’s nothing quaint about bitterness.

I keep asking myself, “all of this fighting over what?’’ A dilapidated building that, in my view, is ugly. Yes, the old school building is an eyesore to no less an extent than the old supermarket by the harbor that, hopefully, will soon be razed and replaced with at least some open space.

The school obviously has nostalgic appeal to some. But it’s not “historic’’ and seems devoid of architectural splendor. Not everything old deserves to be protected. The school building was a tool; its purpose served.

One solution to the school quandary could have been just tearing the old girl down. The town could have preserved the site and enhanced wonderful Central Park with some basketball courts for the kids, or maybe a few more tennis courts or benches, or swing sets. Wouldn’t that have been a fitting legacy for the school site? Kids enjoying the old playground? Perhaps that was an option discussed and discarded. [Read more...]

Don’t Ignore Mason Avenue Parking Needs


April 14, 2014

Local developer Patrick Hand has an idea to redevelop the old Be-Lo grocery store property on Mason Avenue. There is no question that the old shuttered grocery blights the streetscape of Mason Avenue. No one can argue against having a nice new building on that lot. But with important matters to consider about the proposal, Town Council has thrown caution to the wind.

At a recent Board of Zoning Appeals meeting, Mr. Hand said that he approached some members of Town Council six or seven months ago about his plans for the property. He proposed selling some of the property to the town for public parking, but he and Town Council could not agree on a price. But rather than ask townspeople what they want, Council cut off negotiations.

Then Town Council decided to buy seven empty lots on the entrance to town. Why did Council think it was more important to buy those lots from Dickie Foster than to purchase parking on Mason Avenue?

Residents, homeowners, shop owners, and some members of Town Council were left in the dark about the Be-Lo proposed project until just a few weeks ago. Most of us only heard about the plan at the March Town Council meeting. Later, a few adjacent property owners received a letter about the Board of Zoning Appeals meeting held last Monday. Mr. Hand’s proposal has never been raised with the Planning Commission or the Harbor District Review Board. It seems that they are only needed when it is time to pull out the rubber stamp.

For going on 20 years the parking lots at the old Be-Lo store have been available to the public in Cape Charles. They have been used for parking to attend functions at the Palace Theatre, to shop on Mason Avenue, and to eat at the Coffee House, as well as other uses. Where will tourists and shoppers park when those lots are closed? [Read more...]


Promote Economic Development — Not Rezoning

Reprinted by permission from ShoreLine, the newsletter of Citizens for a Better Eastern Shore. 


April 7, 2014

The reasoning behind the proposed revision of our zoning ordinance, we are told, is to pave the way to economic development. In that light, prompt disclosure of Northampton County’s actual efforts towards promoting economic development will be appreciated by her concerned citizens. We have recently hired a $100,000 per year Economic Development Director to direct us towards prosperity, and it behooves us to know what he has been doing these last 12 months to sell our place to the business world.

The Northampton County Board of Supervisors charged him with the task of revising and simplifying our zoning ordinance. That ordinance he has drafted with the aid of considerable staff, albeit lacking certain studies that could validate the work. The point of “simplifying” the ordinance for the benefit of economic development begs many questions: What are our goals? What is our business plan for marketing and selling the Shore to industry and business? What is our marketing budget, our inventory of real estate assets, our infrastructure assets — i.e. labor, training, materials, transportation, etc? What marketing aids such as brochures and pamphlets have been developed? What trade organizations are targeted? What presentations will we host at places where decision makers gather to meet? What advertising and publicity will we generate?

A good business plan includes a vision statement and the Three P’s: Product, Pricing, and Promotion. There is plenty of “product” zoned for business for sale, yet there appears to be no “promotion.” Our Development Director should build a partnership with the Shore’s real estate agents — our best sales people — who are on the front lines of economic development. Put the product up prominently on a shelf, advertise its availability to your customers, and go out and drum up business.

We hope that Mr. McSwain has not been sidetracked for zoning work. How many contacts has he generated, how many visits has he hosted and how many prospects have turned us down because of our so-called “preservationist” zoning? The County needs to entertain some “paying” customers and find out what their needs are before we attempt to fix something that we are not even sure needs fixing. The Supervisors need to supervise our star salesman to make some sales!

Let’s get down to brass tacks and let Mr. McSwain do what he does best. As well, our Planning Commission, and the public, ought to be privy to what our business plan is and how it is being fulfilled. I, for one, would like to see it in black and white or, better yet, in full color.

David Kabler is a Realtor, a local businessman, and a former Northampton County Planning Commissioner.

Submissions to COMMENTARY are welcome on any subject relevant to Cape Charles. Opinions expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily of this publication.


COMMENTARY: Give County Zoning Proposals a Chance


March 10, 2014

It was reported in an opinion piece last week in the Wave that the 501(c)(3) Eastern Shorekeeper has decided to enter the fray over proposed Northampton County zoning issues, essentially using a petition and a veiled legal threat to force County Supervisors to follow the “intent” of the Comprehensive Plan. I understand the trepidation, but attempting to tie officials to a document that is outmoded the day it is completed does not seem like an effective approach.

Although required, Comprehensive Plans are only a guide, and the State does not require land use and zoning decisions to be based on, or even consistent with them (they carry no legal intent). They are inherently too old, too ignored, or too irrelevant to ever be of any practical use — attempting to apply them to dynamic systems is the ultimate exercise in futility. [Read more...]

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Zoning Proposals Conflict with Comprehensive Plan

Executive Director
Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper

March 3, 2014

The Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper organization has expressed its concern to Northampton County officials over plans to overhaul the County zoning code. The County recently issued a statement by Economic Director Charles McSwain stating that “The proposed zoning code is consistent with the County’s adopted Comprehensive Plan.

In fact, there are numerous conflicts with the Comprehensive Plan that would make this statement untrue.   Furthermore, the County’s Planning Commission has not yet completed the five-year review of the Comprehensive Plan — nor have they held any hearings to present to the public any proposed changes to the existing Comprehensive Plan. [Read more...]


Shore’s Closest Pro Football Team Has Skin in the Game

1983 to present

1983 to present


February 17, 2014

As Olympians from around the world are meeting in Sochi to compete for gold, two members of Congress, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) have also forayed into sport by sending a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, appealing to him to support the effort to change the name of the Washington Redskins. “The National Football League can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur,” they write.


Meanwhile, the team and several players have released statements claiming they have received “more than 7,000 letters and emails” in favor of keeping the name, with “almost 200 from people who identified themselves as Native Americans or as family members of Native Americans.” Whether or not the Redskins and the NFL are on the “wrong side of history,” as the senator and representative state, is something to consider. Given that I am married to a Redskins fan, and the Eastern Shore is historically Redskin territory, it might be helpful to review the actual history we may or may not be on the right side of.

The original team dates back to 1932, in Boston, owned by George Preston

1972 -1981

1972 -1981

Marshall, Vincent Bendix, Jay O’Brien, and Dorland Doyle. The team played their games at Braves Field, and as a matter of expedience adopted the same name, Boston Braves.

In the first year the team lost $46,000, and Bendix, O’Brien, and Doyle dropped out of the investment, leaving Marshall the sole owner. Marshall, who was having a dispute with his current landlord for the Boston Braves, immediately moved to Fenway Park and changed the name to the “Redskins.” Marshall claimed he did so to honor the team’s coach, Lone Star Dietz, who claimed to be of Native American descent (part Sioux). There is also an account that Marshall chose the



name as an allusion to the Boston Tea Party Patriots that dressed as Native Americans, as a way to send a not so subtle message to his former landlord.

Several years of mediocrity followed until 1936, when the Redskins won their first Eastern Division Title. However, even after winning the title, only 4,000 fans showed up for the final regular season game, at which point a thoroughly disgusted Marshall refused to play the championship game in Boston and instead moved it to the Polo grounds in New York, giving up home field advantage. They lost. [Read more...]


COMMENTARY: Advice to the New School Board


February 3, 2014

On Wednesday, January 15, I drove back to Northampton County, across the increasingly overpriced Bay Bridge-Tunnel. I drove around Cape Charles, taking in the familiar streets, and eventually made my way to the Northampton County Public Schools Central Office in order to witness the swearing in ceremony of the county’s first elected school board.

For many of us, the ceremony marked the end of a long process which began several years ago.

Several hundred of us sat in the Old Middle School auditorium to express our outrage over the unceremonious dismissal of a popular high school principal. But there were only eight of us a few weeks later, facing that great, inevitable question: “What’s next?”

Over the next few months, we collaborated closely and struggled to develop a message that was respectful of a long litany of complaints about the state of our public schools, but was also forward-thinking, positive, and would ultimately lead to a positive change in the county. We recognized that the county’s public school administrators and School Board were not responding to needs of teachers, parents, and the community at large. For example, the county’s strategic plan addressed the topic of “community outreach” with only the ominously apathetic words “on going.” That, we felt, was not enough. So we began circulating a petition to create an elected (and not appointed) school board. The petition led to a referendum, which was overwhelming approved by the voting public in November 2012. Then we turned our attention to recruiting candidates for the School Board.

For my part, I was adamant that the candidates be subjected to public scrutiny and that they be asked to articulate an unwavering commitment to involving the expertise of teachers in their deliberations. I firmly believe that almost any problem in our schools can be better solved by a group of teachers, working in the classroom day in and day out, than by Central Office personnel or state-level officials in the Department of Education. Although I was there for every step of this story, I hope that this last point — that the teachers should be more respected — was my contribution.

After a series of public forums, of which the most productive was sponsored by the Northampton County Education Association, a professional association of Northampton’s teachers and support professionals, a group of candidates was selected. In November, the people elected their first school board.

When they raised their hands a week ago and took their oath of office, I hope they realized that although a long story had come to a triumphant conclusion, a new story was beginning. And that story begins with that same great, inevitable question: “What’s next?”

It saddens me that I will not be a part of answering that question. Shortly after the election in November, I accepted a position that required me to move out of the school system. My colleagues congratulated me warmly, and I was grateful for their support. As we all must, my decision to move on was responsible to my family obligations and respectful to the resignation process as defined by School Board policy. I certainly wish that Northampton County could have created the circumstances for me to remain. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Why We Might Join the Beach Club


February 3, 2014

The review of the new Beach Club at Bay Creek in the Wave, which at first appeared to be a rather innocuous report about the general status of the facility, instead seemed to unleash a firestorm of commentary. As usual, the comments section veered off into the weeds, degenerating into a Wrucke vs. Bender UFC cage match, arguments of gated vs. non-gated communities, Bay Creek’s inability to clear snow off the roads, the Wave’s journalistic style, and even intellectually flaccid attacks against members of Old School Cape Charles.

While all this was going on, my wife was reading the article with excitement — years of working in social work, she is the original inspiration for a silver linings playbook. While I’m complaining, “Where’s the bar? How am I going to get my martinis? Do they expect me to survive on just food and water? Never!,” she’s reviewing the amenities, and quite to my surprise offers, “You know, this place is great. And it’s a great deal. Cheaper than the Y.” Stopping me in my tracks, I asked her, “What you talkin’ bout Willis?”

And then she explained. When she was a kid, she belonged to a pool and racquet club in Northern Virginia. In the summers she would spend her days playing tennis, walking over to Roy Roger’s for fried chicken, and generally just lounging by the pool. She would also spend one or two weeks visiting cousins in California, who belonged to a magnificent beach club overlooking the Pacific, just north of San Diego. At that moment, I realized that she wasn’t just trying to be Pollyanna — her memories of those times really did make her happy.

Then I thought of my own youth. We also belonged to a club. Looking back, it probably wasn’t much to look at, and compared to what we see at Bay Creek, probably a bit shabby. But it had a big, clean pool, a couple of tennis courts, game room with pool, ping-pong, a few pinball machines, and an excellent snack bar. When Little League baseball ended in mid-June, we were finally cut loose, free to indulge in the lazy days of summer. Me and my friends would sleep late, and then hop on our bikes and ride over to the pool. Pockets stuffed with lawn mowing money, we would swim, play ping-pong, and eat hot dogs and coke all day, until exhausted, we trekked back home to Mom’s dinner table.

Sometimes during the week, when the pool was marginally empty, me and my friend Ronnie would take his dad’s scuba equipment, and the life guard would let us scuba dive in the pool (as long as they could see us). I’m not sure how many hours you need to be certified to dive, but I’m months past that. Ronnie and I would stay under until we completely drained the tanks. Later we would carefully return them to the racks, and Saturday morning, when Ronnie’s dad was checking them before he went on a dive, after discovering they were empty, we could hear his yell, echoing throughout the neighborhood, “RONNIE!” [Read more...]


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