It might be hard to find a subject that's less sexy than urban planning. People rarely show up at municipal meetings to debate the dry details of development, so officials were surprised when a small but angry crowd assembled at Blacksburg's town hall.
The last item is Blacksburg 2046, and this is a 2011 comprehensive plan amendment to incorporate urban development areas.
The Commonwealth wants larger communities that are growing to say where and what kind of housing, schools, stores and offices it might want to accommodate more people. The idea is to avoid sprawl and to create sustainable urban centers.
"Ah, the word sustainability stands out, since it is such a key word in Blacksburg and the VT community," says Roger Abelhart, who was the first to speak at the public hearing. "A key word in local vocabularies since Blacksburg became a dues paying member to ICLEI, which to me at the very least a violation of article one, section ten of our U.S. Constitution."
For those who don't have their Constitution handy, article one, section ten says states shall not enter into any agreement with a foreign power, and ICEI -- the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives -- is a global group of more than 1,200 cities that has ties to the United Nations.
"I don't think we want to have any directions from the UN down here in the real world," says Roscoe Trivett, who drove 125 miles from Bristol to protest.
ICLEI helps communities figure out how to reduce their carbon footprint, providing software and educational materials, and it allows cities around the world to compare notes on going green.
"The feeling like if we join with others on behalf of common planetary concerns, somehow it's subversive of American values," says Rich Collins, professor emeritus of Urban and Environmental Planning at the University of Virginia. "I find that absurd. I think there's a broad consensus that land use planning is essential."
Chip Tarbutton has been paying attention, and he doesn't like what he sees. The leader of Roanoke County's Tea Party says urban development areas will threaten our private property rights and our future choices.
"Essentially what they want to do is create clustered developments or urban development areas where the majority of people would live and then make it difficult, if not impossible, for people to live outside of those areas," says Tarbutton. "So those other areas would be held in reserve as wildlife preserves, and in that way they hope to reduce carbon emissions that would save the planet from the global warming hoax they're trying to foist on us."
Tea Party proponent Charles Battig agrees. He told the Albemarle County Board that all this planning might be totally unnecessary. A physician and an engineer, Battig is not swayed by a growing consensus in science that human behavior is causing the current round of climate change.
Consensus has never proved anything. At one point, consensus "proved" the Earth was flat, in my medical field that ulcers were caused by stress and cured by milk. Now we know that neither one of those is true.
His allies, who constitute a majority on the Albemarle County Board, voted to drop their membership in ICLEI. So did elected officials in James and nine other communities around the country.
In Roanoke, the board of supervisors voted to put off the designation urban development areas, and tea party leaders are pressing the state legislature to repeal the requirement that communities plan them.