Correction to This Article
An Oct. 8 Metro article about the race for Prince William County board chairman gave the incorrect age for Democratic candidate Sharon E. Pandak. She is 53, not 56.
PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY

Candidates Differ on Approach To Growth

Sharon E. Pandak (D), who touts her long experience as county attorney, said she would seek consensus in growth decisions.
Sharon E. Pandak (D), who touts her long experience as county attorney, said she would seek consensus in growth decisions. (Dayna Smith - Dayna Smith -- The Washington Post)

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By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 8, 2006

Development is the issue driving the race for Prince William County board chairman, with both candidates urging caution about how Virginia's second-largest county continues to grow.

But the most striking difference might be the way they talk about it.

Corey A. Stewart, who has been the Republican supervisor from the Occoquan district since winning office in 2003, has marked out the more uncompromising stance toward developers. At a recent forum, Stewart blamed them for virtually every county problem -- traffic jams, dwindling open space and inadequate historic preservation.

Sharon E. Pandak, a Democrat who served as county attorney for 15 years before leaving in 2004, has taken a more open approach toward development proposals. At the forum, Pandak emphasized her government experience and said she would seek consensus from stakeholders in growth decisions.

Already, builders are sounding worried about the possibility of a Stewart victory, while members of the conservation community express wariness about Pandak's views. The top job on the board came open after Sean T. Connaughton (R), the chairman since 2000, resigned last month to head the U.S. Maritime Administration.

"I know there are a lot of concerns about Corey Stewart," said James S. Williams, executive vice president of the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association, which represents about 1,000 companies. Williams said the trade group has not yet endorsed anyone for the Nov. 7 contest, but it made no secret of its support for candidate John S. Gray, who unsuccessfully challenged Stewart in an intraparty caucus for the Republican nomination.

"There's no guarantee that Sharon will be any more receptive -- but conversely, I have not heard her make the statements I've heard Mr. Stewart make," Williams said.

Some in the slow-growth crowd, meanwhile, see Pandak as the developers' candidate, said Elena Schlossberg-Kunkel, a spokeswoman for Advocates for the Rural Crescent, a conservation group that promotes the county's 80,000-acre preserve.

Many are uncertain of Pandak's beliefs, Schlossberg-Kunkel said.

"All we seem to keep hearing is a résumé. We're looking for: Where does she stand?" Schlossberg-Kunkel said. "In the community that's concerned about controlling growth, slow growth, and the conservation community, it's not playing well."

The differences between the candidates were apparent at a forum Sept. 27 sponsored by the Prince William Conservation Alliance and several other preservation groups at the McCoart Government Center. About 100 people attended.

Stewart, 38, warned that at least 30,000 more dwellings were planned for the county. He said he had signed a pledge to keep the Rural Crescent, a preserve that limits housing to one house per 10 acres, free from sewer and water service that would make high-density development possible. He also promised to boost the contributions that developers pay to defray the cost of building infrastructure and to raise fines against them for violations.

"Developers must pay for development. If developers do not pay for development, you do," he told the audience.

Stewart also aggressively challenged Pandak, criticizing her for traveling to Europe last month amid a race that has been shortened because of Connaughton's recent departure. The winner will serve the year remaining on Connaughton's term; an election next year will be for a full four-year term.

Pandak, 56, took a professorial tone during the forum. She delved into the intricacies of land-use law and touted her role in helping write county laws that protect the Chesapeake Bay.

"I laughed when I heard someone say she's running because she's the developers' candidate," she said.

Winning concessions from builders, she said, requires working with them. Even high-density development might make sense if placed in "nodes" served by mass transit, she said.

"To say 'I'm going to stop growth' is myopic," Pandak said later in an interview. "It's not going to happen. You can't do a moratorium in Virginia -- it's illegal. It's simplistic."

Pandak said she would refuse to sign a pledge written in someone else's words that promises to oppose extending water and sewer service into the Rural Crescent, but she reiterated her commitment to keeping it free of development. She also argued that the county should issue bonds for $25 million to purchase open space.

Her sharpest shot at her opponent came when she implied during the forum that Stewart had been a divisive force on the eight-member board. Connaughton and Stewart clashed often.

"It is interesting that someone can suddenly build consensus overnight," Pandak said, eliciting chuckles from the audience.

Stewart had an early start in the race, positioning himself to become chairman as soon as Connaughton announced interest in seeking his party's nomination for lieutenant governor, an attempt that came up short last year. Pandak said she jumped in only after few others expressed interest; she felt that the county needed someone with her long record of public service. She has won the endorsement of neighboring Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D), who has been campaigning in Prince William on Pandak's behalf.

Pandak lost time campaigning because of a long-planned trip to Europe with two elderly relatives last month. Pandak said she knew that the trip, from Sept. 7 through Sept. 24, might set her back but felt that it was important to honor her promise to the two women to accompany them to see relatives in Croatia. It bothered her, she said in an interview, that Stewart had tried to use the trip in their Sept. 27 debate, equating her trip to being "out there on the Riviera."

Several forum attendees said they welcomed the overall tenor of the debate. "I am gratified that we have two bright, competent people vying for this position," said Harvey Simon, vice president of the Friends of Manassas National Battlefield Park.


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