In Outer County Races, Growth a Common Foe
By Justin Blum and Lisa Rein
In Prince William County, board Chairman Kathleen K. Seefeldt (D) has sent out a blizzard of campaign fliers picturing herself next to a stop sign with the caption "Stopping Growth."
In Loudoun County, James G. Kelly, an independent candidate for board chairman, has plastered signposts along Route 7 with "Slow Growth" signs.
In Northern Virginia's burgeoning outer suburbs, slow-growth fever has swept virtually every contested Board of Supervisors campaign. Even candidates who once embraced development are talking about how to slow it.
You would think this would make all slow-growth activists happy. Not exactly. Some suspect the newly converted are trying to hoodwink voters.
"It's frustrating," said Cemile Bingol, an activist with a group called Sustainable Loudoun Network. "If they've seen the light, then wonderful. I'm just not sure."
The fact that so many candidates are preaching slow growth marks a dramatic change in the sprawl debate in Northern Virginia's outer counties. The focus is now on how to limit development and collect more money from builders--not whether doing so is a good idea.
In Loudoun, the nation's third-fastest-growing county, eight contested board races feature growth as a core issue. In Prince William, two of the three contested board races are consumed with development controversy.
In both counties, candidates point to the negative impacts of booming populations--roads clogged with traffic, crowded schools, increasing taxes and the relentless march of subdivisions over the landscape.
In Loudoun, many candidates say developers must pay more for new schools and services so that taxpayers do not have to pick up the tab. Many also want changes in county planning maps to reduce the number of new houses allowed. Some candidates even want wholesale rezonings to turn back development already approved.
Sprawl emerged as the dominant issue in Loudoun after the May 22 Republican primary for chairman of the Board of Supervisors. In that race, Supervisor Scott K. York (Sterling), a slow-growth advocate, trounced incumbent Dale Polen Myers, who boasted of helping lure technology companies and other businesses to the county.
Since then, the issue has dominated debate and screamed from placards and mailers as candidates try to outdo one another on slow growth.
"There are people who have a record," said York, "who changed their tune dramatically" after the primary.
Myers, who decided to run as an independent after her loss, says she has long supported "managed growth." Her opponents disagree.
"Who would ever say they're for dumb growth?" Myers said at a recent debate. "When people say 'smart growth,' it is whatever it is to that person and their beliefs."
Kelly, another independent candidate, has tried to cast himself as more of a slow-growth advocate than York or Myers. There is no Democrat in the race.
Building industry leaders say they are dismayed by what they are hearing. They say they already contribute to school and road construction in exchange for rezonings, that they build in response to market demand and that limiting growth will only hurt the economy. "Jobs will be lost, which we kind of fear will lead to a downturn in the overall economy," said Michael L. Toalson, of the Virginia Home Builders Association.
In Prince William, challengers are hammering incumbents' records on development.
Seefeldt's GOP opponent, lawyer Sean T. Connaughton, argues it's a little late for her to take up the slow-growth cause. "Seefeldt is sounding a new theme of stopping growth, but as you can see from her campaign contributions [from developers] and her record, that's not the case," he said. "She has an established record of being pro-reckless growth."
A previously reported Washington Post analysis showed that Seefeldt voted to approve 92 percent of the housing development requests before the board from 1990 to 1995. Seefeldt has said that supervisors have little choice but to approve projects that comply with the county's master plan.
Seefeldt says her record is being misconstrued. "Those of us in the battle for land-use control are concerned that people are saying we let this happen," she said. "Well, we've been fighting it for years."
A third candidate in the race, Libertarian Robert K. McBride, has not made growth an issue.
In western Prince William, Democrat Gary C. Friedman is attacking Supervisor Edgar S. Wilbourn III (R-Gainesville) for his ties to the building industry. Wilbourn contends he can still be objective on land-use decisions and supports controlling growth. Friedman, he says, is "anti-transportation."
In Fairfax, which faced the sprawl debate more than two decades ago, there is still concern among voters about clogged roads and disappearing open space.
The growth debate in older parts of Fairfax has also focused on small tracts of open space. Anger over development plans for McLean's Evans Farm has sparked a heated battle between Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn (R-Dranesville) and a Democrat, Barbara H. Phillips.
One Loudoun supervisor candidate sees hope for change in the fact that so many campaigns are talking about sprawl.
"It's encouraging," said Democrat Charles A. Harris, who is seeking the Broad Run seat. "Whatever the board makeup is . . . they have got to implement smarter growth plans. Even the slow-to-come-around smart growthers understand that."
Staff writer Michael D. Shear contributed to this report.
© 1999 The Washington Post Company