Correction to This Article
An Oct. 14 article about growth in Fairfax County incorrectly described the ownership of 309 acres at Hunter Mill Road and the Dulles Toll Road. K. Hovnanian and WCI/Renaissance do not own the property but have a contract to purchase the property that is contingent on rezoning of the site.

From Lost Trees, Foes of Growth Take Root

By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 14, 2005

The trees were the last straw.

Becky Cate spotted the destruction one day last December: Amid the sprawl of her neighborhood just south of Tysons Corner, a Caterpillar had barreled through a grove of towering poplars and oaks, wiping out what she and her neighbors considered their last remaining treasure. Giant trees that a developer had promised to save on an old family goat farm were now being bulldozed for 14 more houses.

"We started making calls to the county and said, 'This is not right,' " recalled Cate, a civic activist and former candidate for county supervisor who helped lead a fight for fewer houses on the property. "We want the natural canopy back. . . . It's a high-profile case, and people are watching it."

The campaign about the lost trees around the goat farm has been hard fought and is a sign of a new era of homeowner politics in Fairfax County. Twenty-five years after a backlash against suburban development threw the county's leadership out of office, homeowners are rising in revolt again, this time over an urban future they never envisioned when they moved in.

As developers press to fill space in subdivisions and office parks to create denser collections of homes and offices, neighbors from disparate corners of the county have established a network called FairGrowth to fight back. They want to protect their quiet streets and driveway basketball hoops from condominium and office towers and big new homes crammed into the last slivers of buildable land.

The activists have no formal membership list but represent about 20 civic groups, some new, some newly devoted to saving long-bypassed land from development. Connected through a widely subscribed Web site and the blogosphere, news releases and protests, FairGrowth members are showing up at land-use meetings in force, determined to have a larger say in decisions they say favor developers over neighborhoods.

FairGrowth is on a collision course with county leaders, who say they are listening but are steadfast in their view that people filling the 25,000 jobs created in Fairfax last year have to live somewhere. The county's population is predicted to rise to 1.5 million in the next 20 years.

"In-fill gets very tricky," said county Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D), whose campaign donations from the real estate and development industry rankle many activists. "Sometimes we say yes, sometimes no." He cited the board's recent denial of a proposal for 1,200 homes a half-mile from the Vienna Metro station -- too far to qualify as the kind of transit-oriented "smart growth" county leaders are pushing.

"No one is in thrall to developers. There are some people who do not want any growth or development of any kind," Connolly said. "But in lots of parts of the county, that's not the case."

Connolly dismissed some of the activists as Republicans with "obvious political agendas" to loosen the Democrats' hold on the county board. FairGrowth leaders deny the contention, saying members come from all political parties.

They say they are often misunderstood.

"There's a desire to constantly label the opposition as NIMBYs," said Will Elliott, a FairGrowth founder from Vienna, referring to the "Not in My Back Yard" moniker given to many growth opponents. "It's just the opposite of that. You can go to any area [of the county] and find the same thing."

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