Welcome to Fairfax -- if You Vote Red

By Marc Fisher
Sunday, April 24, 2005

Just when you thought the political polarization of this country had gone as far as it could, here comes Rep. Tom Davis with a whole new frontier for the Red-Blue wars: The Republican congressman from Fairfax seems to believe that the only way he can guarantee himself reelection till the end of time is to prevent Democrats from moving into his district.

Davis last week announced his intent to use Congress's authority over the Metro system to force a downsizing of a huge, 2,250-unit condo, townhouse and commercial development planned for 56 acres next to the Vienna Metro station.

The congressman says he's deeply concerned that at the Vienna station, "smart growth" -- the slogan of those who favor building more densely around transit stations to funnel population growth there rather than letting it seep deeper into the countryside -- is really dumb growth, overly congesting both roads and rails.

But while he buddies up to residents of Vienna who are aghast at the thought of thousands of new neighbors, Davis -- who supported transit-oriented development when he was chairman of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors -- really has a different concern.

Three Fairfax elected officials told me that Davis explained his opposition to the MetroWest development to them as a matter of party politics: The congressman believes that the people most likely to move into condos and townhouses near a Metro station are -- oh, the horror! -- Democrats.

One politician who spoke to Davis says the congressman told him straight-out that he opposes Pulte Homes' MetroWest project because "all it does is produce Democrats."

Davis won reelection last year with a solid 60 percent of the vote against a largely unknown opponent, but he saw frightening cracks in his electoral foundation. "He lost Merrifield, the area around the Dunn Loring Metro station, and he's convinced that it turned blue because of development around the station," says Democrat Gerry Connolly, the Fairfax board chairman.

Davis scoffs at the idea that he is motivated by politics. He says Vienna is simply unsuited to a project of this magnitude. The Orange Line is already full in the morning rush, and Interstate 66 is way over capacity.

The congressman says he still supports denser development at Tysons, "but if you extend smart growth out past Tysons, you're turning the county into a city, which is not what most people want."

Davis's alternative to density at such suburban Metro stations as Vienna is not more sprawl, but rather a push to repopulate the District. "Culturally, the people who would move into this project in Vienna are urban kind of people. A lot of them are single, and they would be happy living closer in."

Which would put those people where they belong, either in Democratic Washington or in suburbs in Rep. Jim Moran's Democratic district.

"Could this be a new form of redlining?" wonders T. Dana Kauffman, a Fairfax supervisor who also is chairman of Metro's board. "Should I be concerned because I have all these starter castles coming in on Route 1 and the people who buy them are likely to be Republican?"

Davis says party politics has nothing to do with his power play. "I don't know who's going to move in there," he says, one minute after describing exactly who he expects will live at MetroWest. (Davis himself provided insight into his motives: After John Kerry won Fairfax in November, Davis fretted to The Post's Lisa Rein that "the city is moving out to the suburbs.")

Fairfax politicians are livid that Davis is interfering in local land-use decisions. "Tom knows better -- he's exercising raw power because he can," Connolly says.

Nonsense, says the congressman. "Everybody who gets elected has a say in this stuff. This is my community, which elects me."

By blocking Metro from selling its three acres of land near the station to Pulte Homes, Davis says he can press the builder to cut the project's size. Pulte Vice President Stan Settle says he can charge ahead no matter what Davis does. Kauffman says: "We could end up with a Metro-dependent development with no direct connection to Metro."

"I'm in shock," Settle says. "We listened to the community for a solid year and never heard from Tom Davis. When we greet people, we don't ask if they're Republican or Democrat."

Developers may need a new line on homebuyer applications: job, income, party affiliation.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company