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Fairfax Resists Following Others' Building Freezes

Traffic congestion is an issue in Fairfax County, but its leaders are loath to put development projects on hold until transportation issues are addressed.
Traffic congestion is an issue in Fairfax County, but its leaders are loath to put development projects on hold until transportation issues are addressed. (By Tracy A Woodward -- The Washington Post)

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By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 6, 2007

Nowhere in the Washington region have the consequences of rapid growth been on more dramatic display than the traffic-clogged roads of Fairfax County. They are certain to make transportation the dominant issue in the 2007 elections.

And yet, it is elected officials in Loudoun and Prince William counties who have sent the stiffest message to Richmond lawmakers -- and to their own gridlocked constituents -- that more money for roads and other transportation improvements is essential.

This week, Loudoun County supervisors voted to approve a one-year freeze on rezonings for home construction. The Prince William board ordered a similar halt last month. Across the Potomac River, the Montgomery County Council will hold hearings next week on a proposal to halt consideration of big commercial and residential development projects until August while officials conduct an annual review of the county's growth policy.

So why won't Virginia's largest county stand in solidarity with its neighbors?

The answer lies in political strategy and the Fairfax's board's battle-scarred history when it comes to taking confrontational stances on development issues.

Some Fairfax board members sniffed at the recent Loudoun and Prince William votes as political theater with little practical effect, because it takes a year for most rezonings to wend through the system.

"Election-year symbolism," said Supervisor T. Dana Kauffman (D-Lee). "What we need to be about is looking at the kind of the development we want to have, not sitting on our hands for a year."

Kauffman also said that for a county far more developed than Loudoun or Prince William, and where the board is trying to encourage revitalization of some areas, it would be bad faith to freeze rezoning cases.

"I can't pull off that two-faced routine with a smile on both ends," he said.

Some of Fairfax's reluctance to engage in freeze politics probably stems from its long history of struggles with the development community when it took slow- and anti-growth stances.

In the early 1970s, a moratorium on sewer hookups was invalidated by the courts. In 1972, when a board with slow-growth leanings took office, members tried to suspend rezonings while planners drafted a five-year growth strategy. Led by John "Til" Hazel, the developer-attorney who influenced the evolution of modern-day Fairfax, the private sector squelched the idea.

Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) said the Loudoun and Prince William measures mislead the public into thinking home construction will halt. Projects already in the regulatory pipeline will continue.

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