Editor’s note: Dan, wife & kids have repaired to Ocean City, Md., where they are crabbing, riding the waves, sunbathing and hanging out with The world-famous Nighthawks this week. Herewith are some “greatest hits” columns until Casey returns. The one below one originally ran Dec. 9. It was followed by another, on Jan. 20, about the elementary school ‘field trip’ to the new Clearbrook Super Walmart.
It’s a word that calls to mind quaint images of Americana hamlets, with a post office, a butcher, a barber shop, a church, some stables and perhaps a small school.
Artist Norman Rockwell painted such villages and the people in them. At one time he might have considered using the South Roanoke County community of Clearbrook as a subject.
Over the past decade, almost every vestige of “quaint” has been ripped, blasted, bulldozed and paved out of once humble Clearbrook.
In its place, barely more than a stone’s throw from the Blue Ridge Parkway, is a sprawling asphalt parking lot punctuated by two-story-tall lights.
Behind a Potemkin village-style facade, a mammoth super Walmart bigger than four football fields is weeks from opening.
Meanwhile, yet another domino is about to fall in this future mess of soulless but tax-producing suburban sprawl.
Monday night, the Roanoke County Planning Commission unanimously recommended a bid to rezone 9 acres from agricultural to commercial, so as to allow more stores and restaurants in Clearbrook.
To the credit of developers Steve Strauss and Andy Douthat, they’re not begging for special tax giveaways or infrastructure handouts for their small project next to Walmart.
They’re merely following a trend. You can’t blame them any more than you can blame vultures for picking at the carcass of a doe flattened by an 18-wheeler.
The truth is, the “village” of Clearbrook was run over long before they came along, despite the efforts of its residents to preserve a semblance of it.
In the late-1990s, residents spent months painstakingly crafting a zoning proposal that would allow for smaller-scale, low-rise commercial development in their neighborhood.
They believed it would preserve a cherished village ambiance. They even named it the Clearbrook Village Overlay District.
“Village.” Get it? The Roanoke County Board of Supervisors approved the district in December 2000.
Soon afterward, a proposal for a Land Rover dealership on less than 3 acres, with a 2,800-square-foot building, morphed into a Land Rover-Mercedes-Volvo-Jaguar mega-dealership on 9 acres, with 75,000 square feet under roof.
Then in 2006, the county supervisors really sold the residents out. A divided board approved another rezoning and special exception to the “village” overlay, to allow the 203,000-square-foot Walmart Supercenter with that Potemkin village facade.
The project by Strauss and Douthat is a nearly inevitable result. And everybody knows even more is coming.
That means burger joints, more traffic lights, more big-box retailers, and maybe some office buildings, cookie-cutter chain hotels and apartments. The giant car dealership already is there.
Soon, Clearbrook will resemble West Main Street in Salem, or worse. Businesses near Tanglewood Mall will bolt their current locations for Clearbrook (or South Peak), leaving the Virginia 419 corridor looking even more like Williamson Road.
If you live in Franklin County and work in Roanoke, good luck commuting through the “village” when that day arrives.
Norman Rockwell will be rolling in his grave.
But perhaps by then, we’ll see the rise of a new American art style, whose painters render on canvas the rape of the rural landscape, and the detritus of asphalt, plastic, traffic lights and garbage that follow.
Somebody will acidly name the style “Progress Movement.”
And maybe one day, a mural depicting that will hang on the walls of the Taubman Museum of Art.
It will pay homage to the new name for the Roanoke Valley section of the Blue Ridge Parkway: The Bonsack-to-Clearbrook Walmart Expressway.
The painting will feature bright yellow Rollback! icons, and golden arches, and Motel 6 signs, and the faces of fat and happy consumers carting carbon monoxide-gassed meat and the latest made-in-China junk to cars parked in jammed lots.
That artwork will be titled “Village of Clearbrook.”
Crowds will gather to “ooh” and “ah.”