Jim Dickson

If you keep building it, they’ll keep coming 


Although I always read Tim Wood’s op-eds when they appear in the The Island News, it is seldom that I find very much that I agree with. He and I are at different poles on most subjects, which is OK. I respect his right to believe what he wants, as I hope he does mine. 

But as I read his piece in the January 26 edition, it was almost as if my words were coming out of his mouth. I was shocked. I could not agree with him more. 

Tim was saying the same thing that I have been saying to anyone who would listen, and some who would rather not, for years. 

We “discovered” and fell in love with Beaufort way back in 1978 and bought property on St. Helena Island thinking that we might some day retire here, although it was some 20 or so years away. At the time we were living in the small town of Alpharetta, Ga., population 3,500 more or less. 

Alpharetta is about 20 miles north of Atlanta. In many ways it was much like Beaufort, small, charming and full of friendly people. Then Honda decided to build a huge parts distribution facility that would destroy one of the most beautiful pieces of property in Georgia, and the race was on. 

The chosen site was on a small natural lake surrounded by wonderful old growth trees. We and many of our neighbors rallied at the city council meetings to protest. The first meeting there were 50 of us, then 35, then 20 then 10 and in the end just us. When the mayor and three of the city council members showed up driving new Honda’s, it was over. 

Walmart bought land across the street for a Walmart and a Sam’s Club, and long story short, small charming Alpharetta is now just part of Greater Atlanta. You don’t know when you leave one and drive into the other. 

Over the years we have lived in Albuquerque, N.M.; Fort Worth, Texas; Atlanta; Houston; Dallas; El Paso, Texas; San Diego; Arlington, Texas; Oklahoma City; Charlotte; Akron, Ohio; Cincinnati, Ohio; and probably some that I have forgotten. But in every case, we have seen that “If you built it, they will come.” 

The scenic, tree-lined, two-lane highway that led to our lakeside house near Charlotte is now a four-lane highway choked with traffic, fast food, car washes, used car lots and all the wonderful things that unregulated development will bring. What was the nice little city of Arlington, Texas, which is located between Dallas and Fort Worth is now just another part of the system of eight- and ten-lane highways that sprawl all over the landscape between the two cities, that once again you don’t know when you leave one and enter the other. 

The beautiful avocado and orange groves and great little vineyards that we used to drive out to on weekends for fresh fruit and a taste of wonderful locally produced wine near San Diego are now thousands of the same house all in a row up and down the hills. Huge apartment complexes grow where there were once vineyards, and the sweet country air is now chocking with auto exhaust. In the words of the developers, “The best and highest use of the land.” 

Tim Wood tells the hard truth, and he tells it like it is, or will be, if no one cares or listens. Our wonderful Beaufort will go the same way as so many other places in in America if unregulated growth is allowed to continue. 

In future years, some of the old timers will sit around and talk about how great it used to be, and wish it was again. Then it will be too late! 

Born, raised and educated in the Southwest, Jim Dickson served in the U.S. Navy Reserve in Vietnam before a 35-year business career. Retired to St. Helena Island, Dickson and his wife are fiscally conservative, socially moderate and active in Republican politics, though they may not always agree with Republicans. Having lived around the country and traveled around the world, Dickson believes that the United States truly is the land of opportunity. 

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