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The hills and valleys of development

For better or worse, Marion long has been married to water — and not just the quaint county lake and sprawling federal reservoir that these days lure anglers and campers.

In the parched 1860s, a prime reason settlers located here was that what’s now Central Park was one of the few places where rivers and springs hadn’t dried up.

It took nearly 50 years — and a shift in prevailing weather from drought to flooding — for “valley” to begin taking on negative connotations.

For most of Marion’s first half-century, the town’s best addresses were in the valley. People didn’t refer to “hill” and “valley.” What we now call Hill School was New School. Bown-Corby’s predecessor, eventually known as Valley School, was West School instead.

Such was the pattern before floodwaters began rising, with Marion’s development often following Horace Greeley’s advice of “go west, young man.”

To be sure, there was what people regarded — wrongly, of course — as the wrong side of the tracks. West of what’s now the Union Pacific rail line were churches and homes of a once thriving African American community that migrated here.

But the heart and soul of Marion continued to be what’s now called the valley until repeated flooding made “hill” a word that carried with it lofty promises of greater safety.

It’s been half a century, however, since flood-control projects eliminated flooding, and it’s high time for Marion to realize that “valley” is not a four-letter word.

The city’s strategic plan, now being drafted, should make the valley a prime location for residential development — high-quality, middle-income homes that can benefit from pre-existing infrastructure, well-shaded streets, and an easy walk to a business district that could use more foot traffic.

Take a drive to the area of Bown-Corby, now apartments, and look around at all the nearly empty lots where houses used to stand but now are home only to sheds and gardens. Imagine a development like one proposed for a largely barren farm field north of Marion’s ball diamonds being placed on valley lots instead.

Such a project could revitalize the valley, boosting the value of homes that still are well-maintained while perhaps ridding us of those that aren’t or encouraging people to renovate them.

Not only does the area already have water, sewer, and electric service. It also is clearly within the city limits, unlike the ballpark site, which despite being listed as being in the city, pays township rather than city taxes.

We don’t want to delay the ballpark project by suggesting an alternate location, but we do want to suggest that, if projects like it are discussed rather than announced, ideas like this — and, perhaps, better ones we haven’t thought of — might arise.

Marion must take a longer view of issues such as sidewalks, trees, development, and even zoning enforcement. While it might seem benevolent to allow, for example, sale of a mobile home grandfathered into a neighborhood without such homes, long-term consequences of creating a mishmash of housing must be considered if we are to enhance long-term property values.

There’s nothing wrong with mobile homes, tiny homes, or container homes — if they don’t mix with other homes. George Washington Carver was right. Weeds are but flowers growing in the wrong place. Zoning may seem harsh, but it keeps our flowerbed of homes from turning into a weed patch.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified April 12, 2023

 

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