UPDATE: Fairfax Activists Expand Land-Use Mission After MetroWest Defeat

FairGrowth members Marian Pflaumer and Will Elliott observe an area where several trees were cut down for a housing development.
FairGrowth members Marian Pflaumer and Will Elliott observe an area where several trees were cut down for a housing development. (2005 Photo By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
Sunday, April 23, 2006

It's been a year since FairGrowth burst onto the scene in Fairfax County as a voice in homeowner politics, determined to fight the influence of powerful developers over land-use decisions.

Hundreds of residents packed Oakton High School for a community meeting last April, sharing concerns about growth, traffic and whether the County Board of Supervisors was rubber-stamping new development. The turnout caught some county political leaders off guard.

FairGrowth's immediate target was MetroWest, a long-planned project at the Vienna Metro station -- 2,250 townhouses and condominium units mixed with offices and stores, a fulfillment of the supervisors' vision of a more urban future in Virginia's largest county. The developer, Pulte Homes, promised that residents of MetroWest would take trains instead of adding their cars to the neighborhood's congested roads. But skeptical activists fought for fewer homes on the 56 acres where a neighborhood of as many bungalows had stood since World War II.

The county board approved the project last month. The number of homes will be largely as proposed, representing a defeat for FairGrowth. But the group had put its stamp on land-use politics. Some building heights were lower than proposed, retail space was added and Pulte was forced to implement a series of incentives to entice MetroWest's residents out of their cars.

No project in the county's recent history has drawn so much interest, a mix of opposition and support from those who say the county's future lies in density around train stations.

"Many of the changes we made were in response to the concerns of citizens," said Supervisor Linda Q. Smyth (D-Providence), whose district includes the MetroWest site. "They were obviously part of that discussion."

FairGrowth did not get what it wanted at the Vienna station. But its leaders said they are here to stay and will continue to seek a voice as the county redevelops and job growth fuels a demand for new homes.

"From the very beginning, this was about more than just a single project," said Will Elliott, a FairGrowth founder who retired from the U.S. Agency for International Development in 2004 and devoted himself to the group full time in the past year. "We will continue to promote a public dialogue about land-use decision-making and transportation issues."

Elliott, who lives near the Vienna station, said the group plans to monitor each step of MetroWest's construction to ensure that the stores are built at the same time as the homes instead of after, cutting the need for residents to drive.

Other FairGrowth leaders said they want to be included when supervisors plan future projects, so neighbors would not be surprised by new townhouses or offices.

The supervisors said their land-use decisions are an open process.

"Certainly, there will always be future discussions with land-use," Smyth said. "In [my district], we talk to all sorts of groups."

-- Lisa Rein

© 2006 The Washington Post Company