Backlash to Rapid Growth Extends To New Services and Infrastructure
Saturday, July 5, 2008
Call it growth fatigue.
Across Loudoun County, residents weary of the intense growth that has gripped their community over the past decade are fighting back, not against housing developments or shopping centers, but against schools, cellphone towers, a sheriff's substation, even a hospital.
Gone are the days when developers proposed building tens of thousands of houses on former farmland, angering residents who said the county's population was expanding too much and too fast. Instead, county officials are engaging in an ambitious and expensive effort to build infrastructure and services to catch up to the population boom. But they, too, are encountering opposition.
"Everywhere we pick to put a school or a substation or a firehouse or whatever, we run into resistance. It's very frustrating," said Board of Supervisors member James Burton (I-Blue Ridge), who criticized the pace of growth.
Loudoun's population has more than tripled since 1990, to about 270,000. In 2004, the U.S. Census Bureau named the county the country's fastest-growing jurisdiction of its size. Since then, though, construction has greatly declined with the housing market, and population growth has eased off.
Still, hard feelings linger among longtime critics of the rapid expansion, who say the county's crammed roads, crowded schools and rising taxes are a direct result.
Steve Hines, a longtime slow-growth activist who has raised concerns about two proposed school sites off Route 50, said the policies that allowed the county to expand so rapidly were a wake-up call to residents, who will not stand by again as their community transforms around them.
"You can't afford not to be vigilant," Hines said. The developer-friendly policies of previous county leaders "pointed out the fact that it is the responsibility of the electorate not to give up the reins of responsibility to elected officials. You want to trust them, but you can't."
Loudoun's education system, in a flurry to build enough facilities for its burgeoning student population, is finalizing plans to construct schools at three sites around the county. The three face resistance from the community, partly over fears that they could generate traffic or that the empty desks could prompt more growth.
That attitude has frustrated district officials, who hope to begin construction on as many as 18 schools in the next six years.
"It's really backward," said Sam C. Adamo, director of planning and legislative services for the school system. "We mitigate the growth. We are the solution for the growth that is there."
This year, a majority of the Board of Supervisors, elected on a promise to slow the county's growth, voted against building a set of cellphone towers in western Loudoun. The towers had the potential to expand cellular coverage and Internet access in the rural reaches, but county officials denied them in the face of intense opposition from residents who said they would be an eyesore.